Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sunday 24 February


A dog and its owner go by. The dog has a thick stick in its mouth. The man swings his arms. They make their way, counter-clockwise, around the lake like this. The dog is a middle-aged sheepdog. The man is a middle-aged Caucasian. The dog lays his stick down before the master. The master walks past without picking it up. The dog must anticipate where precisely to place the stick to encourage his master to pick it up. It drops the stick 10' before its owner, races behind it and bows down. It lays in submission, in wait, in prayer there, head nestled in the grass, eyes up. Every so often, the owner picks up the stick and throws it into the meadow. Mostly, though, he walks past without picking it up. The dog must then pick up the stick himself and begin the process anew. Race forward, drop the stick strategically, hurry around, lie down and wait...

It strikes me that this is what the poet is doing in society, carrying a message, a mystery, a piece of the world, racing around in public, placing it before the reader. Please, please, please see this stick. Please read this. This poem, this song, this stroke of light. Please read this bump in the road. This chip of ice. This feather drifting from the eaves. See this please.

The reader walks on.


My first visitors are working artists, Linda Davidson and Beth Richmand. A painter and a jewelry designer.

Linda has new work on display this May at the Catherine Person Gallery (near King Street Station). Linda talks about the role of poetry in her work. She collaborates informally with the poet Anita Feng. They work back and forth in a sort of call and response. I wonder how much time elapses between their exchanges? I wonder if they show together? Linda explained their the process. They work within a loose structure. No requirements, no explanation, just an open response using one's art.

Beth Richmand designs art deco jewelry and works in enamel. She sells her work at Folk Life and The Rest of the Best (Bellevue).

I offer Linda and Beth chocolates in the shape of little mice, artisan chocolates my mother has sent. When the rain begins to dapple the desk, Beth puts her ball cap over the mice. Her natural instinct to protect the small things in life, the gifts.


Gene visits. He tells me he writes things he thinks might be poetry. I ask him to read me a poem. He has nothing with him. I give him Peter Davison's "The Passing of Thistle." As he read, he exclaims, "Now that's good poetry." "That's real!" He went on, reluctantly, interrupting his own reading again and again to discuss the poetry he was finding. He never finished the poem. He seemed too overwhelmed by its poetry. I give him homework. Memorize a poem this week. Make it your own. Next week, call it forth from memory. Call if forth whenever you need it. Pace your walking with it, entertain your friends, explain a force or a subtlety in the world with it, call it forth when you are bored.


I am alone again. I pace in and out of the forest, Little Sherwood. There are no bandits about. I stand behind my Major Oak for spells to cut the wind, then pass out into the crosswinds. I pace my watch. I pace the weather side of the quarterdeck, from the forest to the far tulip tree and back, an immemorial tradition of the British Royal Navy. I pace with my thoughts. Wonder about the direction of our ship. The safety of our crew. I consult charts. Take a compass reading. I dead reckon. We are not on course. Not the least bit on course. I am troubled.

When I turn from the wheel, when I turn out of the forest, I am confronted by a group of women who have mushroomed out of nowhere and stand before my desk. Eight of them, all lined up. I am amazed. "Where did you come from?" They smile in answer and ask for a poem. I select "Emergency Haying" by Hayden Carruth. "Would one of you read it?" They call to someone on the pathway. They say, Professor. And Professor walks into their group. He warms, slowly, to the idea of reading. He locates his glasses. He reads the poem softly. Everyone must lean in. He reads, "I change grip and the image fades." Each word receives fair emphasis.

"She snicked her hand off and took it/and threw it grandly at the sky." It is hard, hearing this, not to iterate this gesture, not to play out this scene. A defiant laborer, a cane-cutting grandmother, taking her own hand, her own power, now severed, now cut away from her body, and throwing it to the sky, throwing it into the face of her maker. What a grand gesture! Defying the one who would own her labor.

"Are you together in class today? How did you come to be walking around the lake?" They wouldn't say. "You don't want to know. We are walking in memory of someone. We have to go now. Thank you."

I read "One Train May Hide Another" by Kenneth Koch to Oliver. "One thing I've learned about Koch's poems, they're long, but they're amazing." It is a 66 line long poem. I read it again to Ross. The poem intrigues him. He asks me to mail it to him so he can share it with friends. "If you are waiting to cross/The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at/ Least after the first train is gone." The poet again is training our eyes. And this line, appropriate to Seattle, "One bath/may hide another bath/ As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain." And so we question our use of words to express meaning. The ability of our language to mean. When we say the word bath. When we say the word work. When we say the word love.


I spend all afternoon with Erik Lacitis of The Seattle Times, who has come to collect information. He vacuums for details. We photocopied my journals. I'm not sure why we did it. I waffled back and forth thinking it may be an invasion and remembering I'd intended to keep a public journal. What is a public journal if not published? Notes, sketches, a head count, random thoughts. Contact info, a history of weather and names. What does it amount to?
Erik drove me, in his very warm hatchback, north on Aurora to an Office Max. We photocopied my journals there, two sheets to a page. The end result seemed small, seemed inconsequent. Eight months of Sundays look like this? This thin stack?
And then Erik made a comment which got me thinking, "If 7000 people pass your desk in 8 hours and only 40 stop by, that's a very small percentage." Honestly, I never thought of it like that. To me, 40 is just about as much conversation as you can have in 8 hours. It's as continuous a conversation (from 10-5) as it gets. It's almost nonstop talk. I am certain I couldn't communicate with 300 or 200 or even 100 people. It just isn't possible. No, that's not true. Larger bodies could form. I could use a megaphone. I could mount a podium. And though the message might be homogenized, I could learn to generalize. I could take fewer questions. Learn fewer names, look into fewer eyes.
No, I cannot be this poet. The hand-to-hand passing of poems is too important. The stories, the depth, the texture of the day, are too much the point. Given too large an audience, I would be reading instead of communicating. That is not the intention of my project, nor of life. The intention of both is to find the means necessary to communicate the human condition.


Butkui came late in the day. A lonesome man. A Rupert's Drop. "I feel trapped in my body." I sympathized with him. This is the universal condition, Butkui. The best we can do is make art and try to share the world. This is the state of humankind. We are solitary souls trapped in bodies. Some say we are "a wealth" trapped in "poverty." Butkui asked for a poem about terminal illness. I read Zach Sussman's "Cancer."
Then he asked, did I want to see his art? Yes, yes! He had images of his paintings on a handheld device. He showed me a whole series of paintings, images of islands, glum and monotone. Images of Duck Island, the island that sits a few hundred feet offshore. He works from photographs.
The best we can do is make art and try to share ourselves with the world. You are already doing this. Though I suppose sometimes this is not enough. I suppose sometimes this fails. Sometimes work is done and never communicated.


30 people visited my desk today despite the wind and cold. I did not need a megaphone to communicate with them. I learned their names. I heard their stories. We shared long poems and short poems and discussed and viewed art. It was a lovely day. A memorable day. A day of strong images and genuine connections.


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