Guest poem submitted by Joyce Heon:
(Poem #1057) Atavism
1 Sometimes in the open you look up where birds go by, or just nothing, and wait. A dim feeling comes you were like this once, there was air, and quiet; it was by a lake, or maybe a river you were alert as an otter and were suddenly born like the evening star into wide still worlds like this one you have found again, for a moment, in the open. 2 Something is being told in the woods: aisles of shadow lead away; a branch waves; a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its path. A withheld presence almost speaks, but then retreats, rustles a patch of brush. You can feel the centuries ripple generations of wandering, discovering, being lost and found, eating, dying, being born. A walk through the forest strokes your fur, the fur you no longer have. And your gaze down a forest aisle is a strange, long plunge, dark eyes looking for home. For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers wider than your mind, away out over everything.
No matter how often I read this poem, I feel the fur I no longer have lift, something creeps my skin, more primeval than thought. The space of it recreates my youthful forays onto forest paths, where light becomes defined by the upright tree and angle of the sun, where it comes like jaguar spots to the skin. Every trip into the forest makes you more than yourself and so much less. Archibald MacLeish advises that a poem lies less in what is said than what is not, what is communally recognized, but is just shy of being put in words, possibly cannot be put in words. It is more feeling than thought, something that fits in between lines and images, and that is eternally true. Atavism takes you from the common experience into the uncommon, the recognition that we have a long history of forest and field, clearing and thicket, that beneath our skin lies the caution of hunter and hunted. It speaks to where we live and die. If you pause, you sense that you are just about to come upon the most revealing truth of your life, some secret, perhaps there in that shadow. Stafford leaves you in that moment of expectation, unlike Mary Oliver, whose fox leaps from hiding like flame across your mind. She paints the image, the experience, and resolves it with photo-realism. For all the fire, the mystery is smothered. You are left having seen a fox. But Stafford only suggests what you might have seen, and thereby reveals some places within you that you didn't know. William Stafford is one of my favorite accessible poets. How can you not admire a man who on the day he died in fragile hand wrote a poem so incredibly affecting as "Are you Mr. William Stafford?" without the least trace of soppy self-pity? You read it with the certainty that he faced dying with his whiskers way out over everything. Joyce. [Links] http://www.graywolfpress.org/mainpages/poem.html has the text of "Are You Mr. William Stafford?", along with a facsimile of the (dying) poet's handwritten draft of the poem. [broken link] http://www.linkstoliterature.com/stafford.htm is a comprehensive Stafford linkery. Minstrels poems/poets mentioned in the commentary: Poem #188, Ars Poetica -- Archibald MacLeish Poem #457, The End of the World -- Archibald MacLeish Poem #426, Wild Geese -- Mary Oliver