This weekly installment from the American Life in Poetry Project dropped into my inBox yesterday. It was a busy day after a busy weekend after a busy week before. My emotions were stretched and frayed from the stuff of life. I was having a hard time concentrating and a hard time catching up. I was immersed in that unique loneliness of my own thoughts. That quality of my brain that bars any intrusions. That part that keeps me focused internally and resists exposure. Then I saw this email. It stopped me. It stilled me. It enticed me to “bathe in the light” of this woman’s attention, as Mr. Kooser described.
I have this light pouring like water, only mine floods the dining room or a pink and green bedroom. I have this rug, only mine is the brick of the front porch or the glean of the hardwood floors. I have this yellow bowl, only mine is green and filled with lemons and Granny Smiths. I have this song. I’m singing it bent over the faces of my own babies. These easy words and descriptions jarred me from that internal immersion, that loneliness that comes from being bound by thought. They directed my attention around me to the mundane activity there. To the simple giving and living. Like you, perhaps, I spend much of my life in the silence of constant motion, of a thousand activities and conversations and concerns robbing stillness. But, here in this newly recognized place, the loneliness of hardship and disappointment and busyness and thought is misshapen. Now, it’s only quiet. And, quiet is ok.
[I’m continually astounded by the power of words, whether composed in verse or in paragraphs. Poetry, in particular, possesses the ability to speak into our common experience and pull from it a varied meaning. April is National Poetry Month. In these last few days of celebration, reacquaint yourself with American poets and their amazing clarity. The American Life in Poetry project is a great place to start.]
American Life in Poetry: Column 266
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
The great American poet William Carlos Williams taught us that if a poem can capture a moment in life, and bathe it in the light of the poet’s close attention, and make it feel fresh and new, that’s enough, that’s adequate, that’s good. Here is a poem like that by Rachel Contreni Flynn, who lives in Illinois.
The Yellow Bowl
If light pours like water
into the kitchen where I sway
with my tired children,
if the rug beneath us
is woven with tough flowers,
and the yellow bowl on the table
rests with the sweet heft
of fruit, the sun-warmed plums,
if my body curves over the babies,
and if I am singing,
then loneliness has lost its shape,
and this quiet is only quiet.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by David Lee Garrison, whose most recent book of poems is Sweeping the Cemetery: New and Selected Poems, Browser Books Publishing, 2007. Poem reprinted from Rattle, Vol. 14, No. 2, Winter 2008, by permission of David Lee Garrison and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.