Writing With Wildlife: Everyday Magic, Day 1013

“Hello, are you writing about me?”

I just returned from writing poetry on the porch at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow to write poetry on the porch of our place. Being outside continually jolts me out of my inside-mind with its cast of thousands to make space for other beings who, if we just pay even a small smidgen of attention, will mosey on, fly, charge, or buzz through.

At Dairy Hollow, the most dramatic of these guests — although actually I was the guest in their home — was a young buck, racing about four feet from me on the other side of the porch railing. He was young, strong, handsome, crazy-fast, and once he got past the house, curious. But then I find a lot of the deer and other critters in Eureka Springs all-too-acclimated to humans, pausing easily in their grazing or romping to take us in, shrug their shoulders, and return to the grass or the path. The buck also seemed quite content to engage in a long photo shoot with me and my phone, posing with his perfected aloof-but-handsome gaze.

The next night, a slim fox stopped in her tracks just across the street. “Hello,” I said quietly. She seemed skeptical and slowly merged into the trees nearby. Dozens of brown morpho butterflies — often tinged in their middle with turquoise melting to brown — titled their dark wings on one diagonal or another into the low and high flowers to drink their lunch. There was also a bird I couldn’t see and had never heard before scream-chirping at me at regular intervals, so insistent and so loud that I would leap out of my chair to scan tree tops trying to see where this alarm was coming from. By the time I left Arkansas, much of this menagerie had made its way into the poems I was writing or revising.

Back home, it’s hummingbirds, monarchs, and at night, barred and great horned owls. At dusk, the changing of the guard from cicadas to katydids. Of course, there’s a lot of other wildlife here I try to avoid, namely Mr. Chigger, Ms. Tick and Overlord Timber Rattler. There’s also the somewhat domesticated wildlife — two sofa-like dogs who spread themselves out on the porch while I work, and a small pouncing kitty. At times, it’s a precarious balance; just last month, we lost our beloved big cat Sidney Iowa to what we suspect was an itinerant cougar. The packrats have discovered that their favorite food is it the innards of Ken’s Honda Fit although they also enjoy chewing apart every rat trap he sets for them. So we have to be watchful as well as budget a lot for automotive electric repairs.

In the balance, I know how lucky I am to draft, sketch, compose, revise, re-compose and otherwise inhabit poetry while co-habitating with the critters who live here. They continually nudge me out of my human-centric view of the world and show me the real ground, teaming with all manner of the wild we can’t even see most of the time. Here, even and especially as so many species are going extinct, is where we truly live.

A Prompt A Day

The pandemic can leave us isolated, anxious, and afraid. Artists like me who make our livings going out into the world to teach and facilitate -- as well as many people currently laid off from work or who must take off time to care for children or to self-isolate -- face economic worries and realities too. While writing isn't a cure-all, the simple act of making something out of words -- and connecting with writers past and present through their words -- can bring us greater solace, clarity, and perhaps even some peace. To this end, I'm offering two options: A Prompt A Day (below) and Vision & Revision: An April Poetry Immersion.

A Prompt A Day

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How Time Moves

How Time Moves

New and Selected Poems

by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Meadowlark Press, 2020. Paperback: 351 pages, 978-1-7342477-2-5

Buy your signed copy from Caryn, and get free shipping.

Books also available through Meadowlark Press and the Raven Bookstore.

How Time Moves makes a great holiday gift!

How Time Moves: New and Selected Poems brings together over 30 years of Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's poetry on what it means to be human in a particular place, time, body, history, and story. "She is our teacher speaking from the sky, from the field, from the heartland," writes Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford. "Like William Blake’s 'doors of perception,' these pages lead readers inward and outward at once," Denise Low, past poet laureate of Kansas, says of the new poems. The collection also includes poetry from Mirriam-Goldberg's previous six collections: Following the Curve, Chasing Weather, Landed, Animals in the House, Reading the Body, and Lot's Wife. 

"In How Time Moves, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg offers us a magical gift: a compilation of new and selected poems, rich with memory and meaning. 'Expect to be startled,' the poet tells us. And we are," writes poet Joy Roulier Sawyer. Poet Patricia Traxler adds, "This is the real work of a poet--to see and speak the often-hidden truths of a human life in a way that enlightens and informs." Poet Diane Suess points out that "True to its title, time is a paramount issue in these poems—not simply its passing, but its potential, in complicity with imagination, to invent and resurrect the future."

The new poems include a special section on pandemic time, exploring how the nature of our hours, days, and months change during this unprecedented era in our lives. Mirriam-Goldberg is a wise and warm companion, leading us into more vivid sight and keen insight into the times of our life, and how time tumbles across generations, landscapes, callings, and questions. As she writes in the introduction,

We don't just inhabit place: we live in time, a human construct of how we order the world as well as the ecological ground of how seasons shift, weather migrates, and the cycles of birth, age, death, and renewal unfurl. I used to think I was primarily writing about place until it occurred to me that my poetry constantly grapples with what time is and how it moves. Like all of us, I live in the place called time, and that place—a field within the field—is dizzingly diverse and deep, made of stories and histories, callings and yearnings, hard-won wisdom and pure mystery. What does it mean to live in time? I circle around the fire of that question through my poems, gravitating toward what light and heat I glimpse.

Here are some of the new poems from How Time Moves:

No One Tells You What to Expect

 

A downpour as you're running down Massachusetts Street

in sandals that keep falling off in unexpected puddles.

Ice on power lines. The dying who won't die,

then a single bluebird dead in your driveway.

The deadline or lost check spilling the orderly papers.

The part that isn't made anymore for the carburetor,

or the sudden end of chronic sinus infections

while walking a parking lot unable to find the car.

 

Your best thinking won't be enough to save your daughter

from a bad romance or your friend from leaving the man

she'll regret leaving. Across town, in a quiet gathering

of maples, someone drops to her knees in such sadness

that even the hummingbirds buzz through unnoticed.

The dog gone for days returns wet and hungry,

the phone call reports the CT scan is negative,

and your husband brings you a tiny strawberry,

the first or the last, growing in your backyard.

 

Life will right itself on the water when the right rocks

come along, so let the bend tilt you toward

what comes next: the bottoms that fall out,

the shoes that drop, the wrong email sent

while a cousin you lost touch with decades ago

calls, his voice as familiar as the smell of pot roast.

All the songs you love will return like an old cat.

 

Expect to be startled.

 

Crossing Over

 

At the edge of the yard somewhere in Lithuania,

she takes it all in: the white bark of the forest,

the dark vertical shadows, the tall field between here

and horizon. Wind rises from the banks

of trees and rushes everywhere, reminding her

to lift her chest, inhale sharply, remember.

 

Who will come after her, and then what?

Will the grasses part the same way in tomorrow's weather,

the leaves sing their breaking song, the air hold

the weight of the world evenly around each being?

Is she the first or the last to hear the ending world?

 

From years ahead, I wait for her to turn into the future.

When she does, her face catches the late light,

and she sees me, sitting cross-legged on a wooden floor

in Kansas. What is there to say from there to here

that would help? A cow walks through a parking lot,

a peacock screams, all of us far from oceans, wars,

the urgency of living in a world on the cusp of vanishing.

 

My great-grandmother doesn't know she will die

in that very spot facing away from soldiers and fire.

How most of this village will face the gun or the gas chamber,

quickly or slowly in the camps or holes in the ground,

little space to think the best, last thought.

The air she exhales falls off the earth, like the sun

tonight and every night. Her surviving children

will spread like water on hard ground that softens over time,

so far from her view at the edge of the yard.

 

All she knows is the cleansing light of the wind,

the moment her life balances before her,

the way love can shelter itself as a dark bird not-so-hidden

in the birches, ready to exhale from the leaves

that keep remaking themselves and the breath

from her body that will one day be my body.

See press kit here.

Book Launch & Reviews

 

Watch the launch party reading! You can watch Caryn give her premier reading from How Time Moves, talk with the audience, and make up an improvised poem aloud from words audience members share right here (photo is Danny Caine, owner of the Raven Bookstore, interviewing Caryn and her cat). You can also see an article from the Emporia Gazette on how this book considers pandemic time.

Praise for How Time Moves:

"Those familiar with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s verse know the humor, the inventiveness, and the revelations. Her How Time Moves: New and Selected Poems samples generously from all of her books, a span of 25 years. The new poems show a master poet at work, as in 'Thresholds,' where story and song blend to create a further dimension, where 'all the gears of blossom / keep turning, all the doors continually open wide.' Like William Blake’s “doors of perception,” these pages lead readers inward and outward at once. Congratulations to her for this stupendous book! ~ Denise Low, 2007-09 Kansas Poet Laureate, Shadow Light: Poems, Red Mountain Press Editor’s Award

"This poet testifies her tug of kinship to feral storms, kitchen appliances, crows, the pluck of old ladies, helpless love, and other denizens of the wide world brought living to her pages. Drawn from twenty five years of lyric devotion, Caryn brings this harvest to Meadowlark Books in a collection with gifts for everyone: blessing, consolation, self-portrait, field guide, yoga gesture, biblical telling, song, memory, spell. She is our teacher speaking from the sky, from the field, from the heartland." ~ Kim Stafford, Oregon Poet Laureate & author of Wild Honey, Tough Salt

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is a generous and insightful poet, brave in her candor and ever awake to the world around her, ready for all the truth it can offer her each day. In Mirriam-Goldberg's poetry, even cancer becomes epiphany, an occasion of ecstatic awakening. This is the real work of a poet -- to see and speak the often-hidden truths of a human life in a way that enlightens and informs. In the cumulative power of her new and selected poems, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg accomplishes this with grace, insight, courage, and unceasing wonder. ~ Patricia Traxler, author of Naming the Fires

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s How Time Moves enacts the largesse and endurance of the upright piano on its cover, in poems that span a life with 'the urgency of living in a world on the cusp of vanishing.' True to its title, time is a paramount issue in these poems—not simply its passing, but its potential, in complicity with imagination, to invent and resurrect the future. 'From years ahead, I wait for her to turn into the future,' she writes of her great-grandmother in a Lithuanian village whose inhabitants 'will face the gun or the gas chamber,'…and 'the breath/from her body that will one day be my body.' The bridge between past and future is 'a freeway of stars,' and wind, and breath, and always, for Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, poetry." ~ Diane Seuss, author of Four-Legged Girl and Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl

"In How Time Moves, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg offers us a magical gift: a compilation of new and selected poems, rich with memory and meaning. 'Expect to be startled,' the poet tells us. And we are. Through her brilliant mastery of craft and and ever-present compassion, Mirriam-Goldberg offers us a wise, humorous, breathtakingly diverse glimpse into her world—as well as the world of our shared human experience. Her own song is one of piercing honesty and exuberant hope, a rare voice in a fractured world. How Time Moves lingers long in the heart and mind, an enduring reminder of the deep and lasting power of poetry." ~ Joy Roulier Sawyer, author of Lifeguards and Tongues of Men and Angels

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg admonishes us: 'All the songs you love will return like an old cat. // Expect to be startled.' Believe her. How Time Moves is the glimmering songbook of her poetic oeuvre. It is the universality of time’s passage joined with the specificity and intimacy Mirriam-Goldberg uses to illumine and delineate her own times that make this a rare book to cherish, a consummate gift of grace." ~ Roy Beckemeyer, author of Mouth Brimming Over

"For Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, witnessing often means 'dwelling in what we don’t know.' How Time Moves, her stellar new omnibus, allows us to witness a world redolent of possibility, a half-known world in which we can fling ourselves across the dewy air to discover we can fly. Layer upon layer of this book houses new and sometimes familiar friends who find each other in the cleansing light of the wind. And if this new collection is indeed a type of house, it is surely a great tree that sings boldly from below our human doings, 'its arms holding up rooms full of birds'." ~ Tyler Robert Sheldon, author of Driving Together 

“The poems are as close to prayer as language can get, if prayer is vision that sees into the souls of things and music that makes us move to old healing rhythms. I find myself writing whole stanzas in my journal and quoting phrases to friends wondering, 'Now who said that?' Caryn Miriam Goldberg gives voice to what can't be put into words, sets us free of old paradigms, and writes like a dream.” ~ Julia Alvarez, author of The Woman I Kept To Myselfand Return to Sender

“'Nothing prepares you for the real/,” writes Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg in the soaring flock of tones and images that is this wonderful book of poems. Nothing prepares us, and so we stumble and fall and break into blossom, bite persimmons, and birth ourselves again and again. How any of us weather the darkening climate of these times is a wonder; it is such books as this that help us breathe." ~ David Abram, author, The Spell of the Sensuous

"Mirriam-Goldberg is a master of the paradoxical as she gifts the reader with insights that are at once disconcerting and comforting; as she holds joy and grief in the same hand, and asks us to trust the maker of these poems—her courage, her wisdom, and her truthtelling, as if she's lived infinity." ~ Maureen Seaton, author of Cave of the Yellow Volkswagen and Sex Talks to Girls

"The poems are silver threads that weave through the darkening sky and gates and light unspooling from the heart’s loom a dream of joy and ancestral echoes." ~ Jimmy Santiago Baca, author, A Glass Of Water and Singing At The Gates. Founder, Cedar Tree, Inc.

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s voice is imbued with love, humor and wisdom. She wields plain words powerfully. Her comprehension of nature borders on the absolute. Her wonderful poems state the seamlessness of the cosmic and mundane, the molten paradoxes of intimacy and otherness, identity and separation." ~ Stephanie Mills, author, Epicurian Simplicity andIn Service of the Wild.

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is a wise, witty, and wry poet." ~ Alicia Ostriker, author of The Little Space: Poems Selected and New

"These noble, ecstatic poems reflect a woman on the edge of life and death. She runs like any animal into the dark “that isn’t so dark” and with new eyes sees there what sustains her—a different light, a hidden room, hope and healing. Her words capture the richness of Kansas landscape and the internal wildness of animals that feed our very existence, give us courage to breathe in every minute and move on." ~ Perie Longo, author, The Privacy of Wind

"Animals in the House is a collection of poems that celebrates the power of the natural world to shape us into what we’re meant to be. These poems lift us out of the container we call our selves, shape us toward trusting what we can never completely know, place us more firmly on the trustworthy ground of earth that has the power to heal and renew. These poems tell us what matters is what’s up close and they make what matters close in case we’ve forgotten. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg walks through the fire – of her longing, her childhood, her desire, her hauntings – all senses pried open, through “a dark that isn’t so dark” into a light that 'dissolves borders into bluestem'."  ~ Renee Gregorio, author, The Storm That Tames Us

“'The earth is tilting',” Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg writes, offering us unexpected, empowering angles from which to reconsider our traditions.~ Diane Wolkstein, author of Inanna: Queen of Heaven

"There were never two women, just Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg split into myths, riper than pomegranates and out of all time. I love these poems." ~ Stanley Lombardo, translator of The Illiad

Prayer for the New Year & Bonus Posts: Everyday Magic, Day 993

Although 2020 is already underfoot, this is my first blog post of the year, and it’s the first post that will go out to all of you who are subscribers since sometime in October when my website had some issues. Thanks to my soul brother Ravi’s generous time and ample wisdom, the sight is fully rehabbed, including automatic emails going out to subscribers again. So here’s a poem for the new year (an oldie but still relevant) and links to any posts you may have missed. I wish everyone and our world at large the peace that surpasses understanding and the courage to address what’s most broken in our lives and on our planet.

Prayer for the New Year

Let the blankets hold the shapes of our sleeping

all the dreams long. Let the cat on the dog’s bed

move over enough for the dog. Let the snow,

gathered tight to the afternoon sky, relax its grip

and show us the white contours of the new world.

Let the last one to leave the room close the lights

and the first one to rise make the coffee.

Let the sorrow we carry unfurl enough to reveal

its story’s ending, whether that ending is upon us

or still to come. Let the windows hold the pink gold

of the just-rising sun and the infinite blue darkening

of the rising night. Let the flowers and stones

make their ways to the gravestones of those we love

who left but never left, no matter how tender

the pain of their imprint. Let the flowers and stones

we collect to carry in our pockets and books

remind us of all that cycles its beauty through

the gift of this life. Let the quietest clearing

in prairie or woods, party of one or crowd of crows

land us exactly where we are. Let the rain come

and our unexpected shimmeying and leaping

alone in the living room. As well, let come

the storm warnings with time enough to find

a basement, the silver light of the winter horizon,

the blue light of everyday, whether we can see it

or not. Let us remember that we are not

who we think we are but only and at last

canoes on the river of light and cooling water.

Let us paddle hard when the current switches,

and put down the paddle when the moon’s face

shines before us, below as above. Let us trust

that we will always be led where we need to go.

Previously published in Chasing Weather: Tornadoes, Tempests, and Thunderous Skies, my book with photographer Stephen Locke

Bonus Posts:

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You As a Poem (for Denise Low): Everyday Magic, Day 973

Last week, I had the honor of being one of the poets giving tribute to Denise Low, the past Kansas Poet Laureate and dear friend of 35 years. She was celebrated at the Spencer Library as a new part of its New American Poetry collection at a special event that also happened to occur on her 70th birthday. While one poem, even while full of references to Denise’s splendid writing, doesn’t do her justice, I wanted to share the poem I wrote for Denise. You can see much more about her at her website, on her blog, on the Map of Kansas Literature site, at Poets.org, and at the Poetry Foundation.

You As a Poem

for Denise

The poem would rise from fossils and columbarium

time-traveled from your memory or the continent’s,

through two ancient gates, rusting in the sun after hard rain.

 

You would watch the poem from behind a window,

your grandfather’s calm breathing behind you,

as you sipped a mocha from a chipped porcelain cup

painted with twining white clematis and one ruddy robin.

 

The poem would feed you a small butter cookie, shaped

like a shell to remind you of the inland ocean we once were,

while you listen as you often do for what the snow

or heat or first explosion of lilac sings now.

 

Later, the poem would take you and Tom to Wisconsin,

in January, in a near-blizzard of course, telling you stories

about the taste of bear or what dreams lived in ice.

 

There would be a woolly mammoth, but because Kansans

excel at elegant understatement, it wouldn’t be obvious,

but a silhouette of the great beast on the western horizon,

only visible when lightning strikes.

 

Like the sky, the poem would spin torrents of fish,

speed, and spirits breaking the drought tides into rivers,

many underground that your walking feet would trace

while you sip wine and regard the sky for what matters,

which once was a dog named Burroughs, low to the ground

but functional, and lately encompasses Jackalopes

and your granddaughter’s face turning toward you.

 

Maybe a martini would mosey into the poem, and certainly

trains at 3 a.m., leaving their whistles echoes as evidence.

There would be wind-leaning switchgrass, and a circular

silence below a solo cottonwood on a ridge of your childhood.

 

Mostly, though, there would be birds: stanzas of the quick

blue fire of Indigo Bunting, an exodus of wild geese,

a charm of goldfinch, and at dusk, a tunnel of chimney swifts

spiraling down to to a single word on each rooftop —

all the birds, you too, from so far away and so near,

coming home all the time, line by line by line.

~ Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

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