Tonight Everyone I Know Seems Lost
As usual, everything is capable of doubleness,
of being more than just itself.
Everything singular and stitched to something
else. Here, I’m talking craft with a scholar
of Plath before decamping to the hood of her car
to drink shots. Here, I’m playing pool with two
brothers back from a week of fishing for cod,
miles offshore in a boat badly in need of paint.
Dying, they said, of thirst and blind from
too much blue. One called me original trickle.
The other named me backwater stagnant.
Tonight, working on my spaciousness I give up
the urge to analyze. To attribute, make thready
connections between cause and effect.
Let me be pointless and faultless. Like the ocean,
not outside my door but a hundred miles away,
unchained, gulping the shore.
After Going Down the Symptom Checklist
I sit the horse in a strange way.
I remember the something
long buried behind the boathouse.
I’m hoping for a little magic,
like a tall black hat to be tapped
once, twice. Voila, rabbit!
Everything’s good at home, perfect
except for the houseflies.
Ditto the stinging wasps.
Now it’s gotten late. I lay my head
on my desk to pray or nap
and note that the distance
between those states has narrowed.
Now there’s hardly any current
and what snakes there are
are less frantic to get under stones.
The local kids are walking backwards,
pants still hanging off their asses.
This boat is ready to shove off
but it’s got no rudder. Rudderless.
Motherless. I head out.
With my own footprint. Kept awake by
what I imagine glacial ice sounds like
as it melts, sea levels rising, leaving puddles
where it used to be dry—
as when in Oz the witch is reduced
to a thin, reflective surface, back when
evil could be toppled by a girl
with a bucket of water. Water tossed
on the fire that climbed the stalk of a friend
dancing in flames—
not funny though his hopping was antic.
Manic. He was like my brother throwing knives
into the sky, dodging them as they fell.
Who left for school with the rest of us
but skipped it. Went instead to the traintracks
to drink on an unused spur, sparring
with no one present, our parents dissembling
back home, who, drawing the shades
at the end of the day, won’t have noticed him gone.
I Went Down to the Spillway to See About the Log Jam
Now I’m having trouble keeping my stitches straight.
I’m going for a little threaded world with deer not
trampling the flower beds.
A small pond in the shape of a serpent.
Where I’m offered a gloved hand and a scent.
Where it hurts but only when I breathe.
It buckles but only when I stand.
Someone digs a low heel into soft mud and leaves.
Letters arrive in envelopes covered with stickers.
One week bees, the next, a brown bear holding bits
of the hive.
The letters fulminate on my desk until I break down,
agree to read them.
Everything a gauzy background to revolution.
Everything hingeing on the next transmission.
But not much is getting through.
Not much is getting through.
The Difference Between Every and Some
Every time I walk by your house I think of you tending koi
and snapping dried heads off chrysanthemums.
Every morning more mums. Some nights spiders spin webs
around the lawnmower, the kind you ride on. Upon seeing
for the first time a magnolia in full bloom: every single petal.
Some of what I know about Dante, every imagined thing
about hell. Every time I trip on a root, fall to the ground:
some occasion to stay that way long enough to study the sky.
Every star a wake-up call to think big, step aside, stop
trying to hold back the twitchy hands of time.
Some amount of folly in declaring: let me count the ways,
love being immeasurable and all. Would you like some
sugar with that honey? Every kind of tumult imaginable,
stirrings afoot, above and below. Some amount of distance
is needed in order to see the glint in my beloved’s eye.
Every time I go there, I go there.
Not Knowing How to Begin is a Way to Begin
Watching bees come back to the hive. Returning
the way we hope our dead ones will, intact.
To see again my mother’s tasseled shoes, heels
crushed. Father’s hat with its small gold feather
in the band, his habit of twirling it in his hands.
The two of them climbing the steps to my house.
There is no greeting that will suffice, seems right.
Instead, I’ll point to the neighbor’s peonies,
their soft fontanels begging to be touched.
Or the new hole the dog dug by the fence.
I’d let him have at it, admiring his resolve.
Made a mental note about his untrimmed claws
ripping through packed sod, nose nudging stones,
rolling them over the rim and how finally, finished
with what he’d begun, he circled three times
and lowered himself in.
A poet friend of mine has filled her basement with rocks found while walking the coastline near her house. Below the space where she lives, surfaces are covered with these chunks of solid, elemental earth, sorted according to how they look, which also has to do with their process of formation. I like to imagine K walking home with pockets filled, placing the day’s collection on makeshift shelves and trays of repurposed fruit cartons, then climbing the stairs to her kitchen, closing the door. I see her returning, after dinner, or perhaps in the middle of the night, kept awake by a need to look again at the specimens, to hold the cold stones, one in each hand. These lumps of mineral aggregates are related to her current poetry project which, aside from the head-shots of rocks accompanying each poem, might seem, on the surface, to have no relationship to geology. Emphasis on surface. A recent draft was linked to a photo of a black striped, fist-sized bolus, the poem having to do with the application of mascara. Part of the reader’s delight is in traveling the guide-wire between language and photo and feeling the strum of connection.
I’m thinking about obsession. What possesses us. How forces, subterranean or subliminal, stir our urges. Unlike my friend, I have a lot less method to my madness. The process is not exactly haphazard, but, it does not begin with an idea, or a scheme or intention. I think of myself as being under the influence, consciousness as a filtration system, like the baleen of a whale. What floods in, what gets caught? Memories, certainly. My father’s fedora, circa 1960. Antics of a beloved and delinquent brother. Daily news of the world with its many versions of what in Buddhist practice is called The Three Poisons: greed, hatred, delusion. Where I walk: cornfields along an inland river. The shorelines of the two bays I’ve spent my life living near, swimming in: Narragansett and Cape Cod. The poem begins in an amorphous but pressurized state. Prodromal. Often an image throws up a flare. I follow. I listen. A call and response ensues. I say gee, the poem says haw. The horse pulls the plow. Or, it begins sonically. Boom-chucka-boom. There is movement, we’re going somewhere. Fizziness, love’s first blush. A little bliss, timelessness. Some words have accumulated on the page. An abundance of cross-outs and arrows indicating move this there. Sooner or later, time returns. Or gravity. Or the want of a glass of cold water. There’s a compelling need to look away. Walk away. Multiple drafts will spin out, evolve or devolve. Usually minus the original fizz or bliss, usually including a period of feeling utterly lost. Often involving the thought: I was on the trail and now have somehow gotten off the trail. Noting a definite lack of trail under feet. It’s easy to imagine, especially at this point of lostness, how helpful it would be to have something overarching, some point to be made, or theme to constellate around. At this point I’d give anything for an idea, something conceptual to align myself with.
Mary Ruefle says, “I’m lucky enough to occasionally be able to do something I love—write poems—and unlucky enough that what I love confuses and overwhelms me.” Confusion and overwhelm. Seasoned with a dash of disappointment, the poem on the page inevitably falling short of the one in the head. But, luckily, the pleasure principle abides. Because this shit is fun! And love endures. The field gets plowed, seeded. A crop of leggy plants is grown. Poems accumulate, over time displaying varying degrees of being done or abandoned. Along the way, a few rules are written or upheld. Always, Dickinson’s truth at a slant. And for the sake of sanity, by personal decree, an allowance that once a poem is published, there is freedom from all further fiddling. The poem is deemed finished enough. In this fashion, a collection of poems is produced. Now, many years later, ten to be precise, a second collection of poems has been written and is scheduled for publication in the coming months. While these poems were gestating, while they were making their way down the birth canal, crowning, to be finally delivered— the world has grown decidedly hotter and in many locales, meaner. We are limping into our second year of a global pandemic. Life in the afterwards is, understatement here, unsettled. Bracket that with the painful recognition that where and under what circumstances one finds oneself will continue to matter enormously. Questions abound. How will our collective human heart hold the magnitude of suffering and loss? How will our basic human need to make art be impacted? In spite of everything, the view from this one small and privileged corner of the planet is not grim. As always, immense gratitude for a life that allows the time and space for poetry.
Maya Janson’s second poetry collection On the Mercy Me Planet will be published by Blue Edge Books in 2022. Her poems have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies including The New Yorker and Best American Poetry. A recipient of fellowships from MacDowell and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, she lives in Western Massachusetts where she has worked as a lecturer in creative writing at Smith College and as a community health nurse.