Who

Today it’s chilly and gray. This Easter morning is skeletal-seeming, especially after the greenery and bloom of recent days. The spring-ready trees seem confused, limbs creaking and cold in this tail-end-of-winter breeze on a day when some people will be searching through gardens for Easter eggs and other treasures. Ronan’s in his bouncer, singing a little, spinning the lizard in the plastic bubble and reaching out, still, for his red and blue bird. What will next Easter look like? On a day that’s supposed to be about beginnings my mind has already sprinted to the ending.

Today I wanted to post a poem about spring, so I went to my trusty “seasonal” poet, Jane Kenyon, whose poems make me feel as though I’ve just sprinted through a field, or come back from a woodsy, vigorous walk, or had a fascinating conversation with someone about Russian literature. Nature and animals and dirt and light. There’s a spring-like in attitude in this work, even when she’s writing about ice storms and the darkness of winter. These poems become embodied in the speaker somehow but force the writer out into the world somewhere. You can be inside her thoughts but also lingering just outside them. I love her for that, for this fierce gentleness, for being a poet that lets you in just so far but then forces (lets?) you do your own work. A weary poet, perhaps. Tired of all the places her mind takes her. I feel like she wants company, and she finds company in her readers, an idea I fully understand.

Instead of poems about spring I found poems about old gravy boats, suits worn to funerals, sickness, owls, barns, travel, sex, longing, a few Greek goddesses, Keats (a lot of Keats), bats, ants, a low moment as a teacher of poetry, but nothing specifically, at least after this cursory glance, about spring. Or maybe it was my concentration. Or maybe I was looking for winter.

I did identify with the question Kenyon asks in the last line of the poem “Travel: After a Death”: “Oh, when I am I going to own my mind again?” Not this Easter, at least for me, and scribbled next to the poem in this book that I’ve owned for 10 years is the thought, written in a hand I know is mine but has evolved into an even sloppier mess after years of grading papers: “How many Easter beginnings add up to an ending?” Who knows what I was thinking or feeling when I wrote that (and here is an argument against the Kindle! It’s good to see one’s written notes!), but it made sense to me. Or did it? I don’t know.

Changing in the restroom at the yoga studio this week, a woman said, “I felt totally lunatic because of that totally crazy-town wolf moon this week. You know, like luna? Luna-tic?” There was no response, but I imagine the other person must have nodded, because the first speaker said, “Yeah, yoga brought me back to earth, dude.” When Ronan’s therapist came over on Friday, the first thing she said when she walked through the door was “crazy moon!” Was it? I have no idea. I could be living on Mars, I think, where there is more than one moon or no moon or moons that move in and out of particular orbits at their moonish, lunar will. I don’t know a thing about Mars. I rarely look at the night sky anymore. “Pull yourself together,” I’ve been told and also tell myself. What am I pulling together? Who is doing the pulling? If I yanked everything together, I feel myself warning myself, even as I attempt to sweep up the bits and organize them into a whole or a shape or something fit to venture out into the world, I will either disintegrate or explode. Gathering of any kind feels dangerous. I do crave lunar landscapes, like the silvery, shining, pocked earth of Big Bend in West Texas, where from miles away you can see the tiny shadow a scraggly bush makes, knobby fingers stilled in mid-reach. A ravaged landscape that is unable, by its nature, to keep secrets.

When I was growing up, my parents put together a fantastic Easter egg hunt. My mom most have been padding around in the garden before dawn in her slippers, when I could hear my dad taking his shower in the bathroom that shared a wall with my bedroom, getting ready for church. It would be light, but still early. We were supposed to have remained quiet and calm for the days between Good Friday and Easter morning, but this plan was usually interrupted by the excitement that an episode of “Knight Rider” created in my brother and I on Friday night after the moody service, all purple robes and dice and shaded crosses and Pilate screwing up and the wrong man going free and the angry crowds asking to crucify and my dad’s voice speaking the Gospel story offstage, out of sight, a disembodied voice waving over the solemn crowd.

After a fragrant service with lilies stacked bloom to bloom on the altar in their brightly foiled pots and everyone in shining clothes and smiles, my brother and I were sent out into the yard at home to search for both the traditional dyed eggs as well as plastic eggs full of clues that would tell part of a story that led to the next plastic egg with the next written clue, another tiny scroll of paper, and finally we’d reach the treasure: a basket full of chocolate and presents and covered in ribbons and bows in pink and blue and yellow. Sometimes the baskets would be inside the dryer, a bathtub, the garage sink.

This Easter I find no promises, only questions, which perhaps are hidden promises. Dana says we hold up lanterns for one another. Sometimes those lanterns can only be questions and nothing more: flickering light, smelly, oil-rich and ready to ignite or inflame, pushed back and forth in the wind, hung on various hooks or nails, propped on shelves or tables, trapping bugs and dirt, snuffed out and then re-lit. Lanterns keep the vigil when the people holding them up cannot. Questions, too.

Who

These lines are written by an animal, an angel,

a stranger sitting in my chair;

by someone who already knows

how to live without trouble,

among books, and pots and pans…

Who is it who asks me to find

language for the sound

a sheep’s hoof makes when it strikes

a stone? And who speaks

the words which are my food?

From Otherwise: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 1996)

2 responses to “Who

  1. “Sheep’s hoof against stone,”reminds me of the risen Christ, literally even. Oddly, “angel and animal” too suggest Jesus. Do I just have Easter on the brain? Perhaps. Or, Emily are you conjuring her inner minister here? Thank you for the blessing–whether intended or not. 🙂 I am holding up a lantern for you today and always, my friend.

  2. Keeping you company on this journey. XO

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