On this last day of Illinois’ fiscal year, on the brink of the financial abyss, I have chosen not to rant politically but rather to blog about POETRY.
Poetry sadly is seldom read these days. It is I think the most beautiful use of language ever to have been imagined, let alone created. Poems are written every day by millions using every language. They seldom find their way to print and if published, earn their authors little reward.
The good side of that sad fact, proving some problems really do have a bright side, is that no one writes poems for the money. There are no blockbuster best-selling books of poetry. No one writes mass market poems. There is no mass market. No path to riches.
And so poems are written out of love; love of language, of art, and a fondness for the kinds of emotions, moments, and experiences that can best be represented by poems, which coincidentally includes love. I think the best poems are love poems.
I had the chance to participate in an art event which SURPRISE included poetry read aloud to a large public. A barge full of international musicians tied up on the south shore of the Illinois River by Ottawa’s Allen Park and delivered a free summer evening concert. Downtown Ottawa was the backdrop for musicians from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Canada, and the Americas to deliver beautiful orchestral music under the stars. A local chorus of flutes opened the evening. somewhere in there music accompanied a prose reading of Mark Twain by a crew member of the boat. The crowd was big. I don’t how to count crowds. Call it more than 200, less than 400.
Magically it seemed, the organizers sought out local poets to do a public reading at intermission. My friend, leaving town and as yet unsuccessful in helping the city enlist enough poets, called and asked for my help locating poets. Sam Barbour and I host a local monthly poetry reading at our church. Read your own poetry, read someone else’s, or just listen. We meet each third Thursday of the month at 7:00 p.m. at Open Table Church on the corner of Jackson and Columbus in Ottawa. It’s a small but loyal group. A number of us write the occasional poem and read them to each other, long with those of our favorite poets. The group rarely numbers more than ten.
I said yes. I had the rest of the day to recruit readers from our group.
“If I can’t find anyone else I’ll do it.”
I couldn’t find anyone else. My words rang in my ears. I found myself on the edge of the boat, a microphone beneath my nose, and a lot of people waiting to hear what I was about to read.
The odd and comforting part of the whole experience was while I knew people were out there, a lot of people, I couldn’t see them. The lights were in my eyes. I simply read a poem I dedicated to my wife and forgot anyone else was there.
Acts of Kindness
The sun not yet up,
He pulls on his jeans,
in the dark
Careful to not wake his wife
Who came to bed late.
He steps quietly from the room,
Padding downstairs in his socks.
He pictures his shoes,
Left behind on purpose,
Waiting for him by the chair.
His wife, reading late,
sleep finally possible,
Surveys the room before leaving,
And spots, forgotten, his old brown shoes.
She stoops to get them,
Grips them in one hand,
Right pressed to left,
Stands, shuts off the lamp, and quietly mounts the stairs.
He will be asleep.
In the dark she places the shoes carefully, kindly, by his jeans.
He’ll find them in the morning, she thinks, and be pleased. (end)
Had I had even a few more days to work on the poem I was currently writing I might have read this one:
The fireflies surprise me each year.
Called lightning bugs on the farm
we chased them across the yard in 1959
ran towards their glow in the dark
captured them between two hands
and imprisoned them in jelly jars
lids poked with ice picks for air holes
and rarely let them go.
A fleeting globe of luminescence,
we put grass and sticks inside
to make them feel welcome.
But the close quarters
perhaps the lack of air
usually killed them by morning.
Enlightened as adults we enjoy those same bugs now,
renamed, treasured, always free.
Once on a 1993 bike ride
down the towpath of an old canal
my son and I spent a charmed June night
racing through fireflies that lit our way
down a tree covered dirt track
away from home.
We, man and boy, age 43 and 10
were enthralled by the beauty of that night,
and the sheer magnificent abundance
of life in the summer.
Now in 2017 I worry we’re killing the fireflies
with insecticides and monoculture
but they continue to shine
surprisingly beautiful, still inspiring.
Each year I forget when they come out.
This year, late on a most magical
warm June night
I was in a shack
looking over a tree filled ravine
when I saw my first firefly.
It glowed, faded, glowed again.
Here then gone.
Seeing one I became of aware of them all,
Scores, maybe a hundred fireflies
filled my view
warmed my heart
and lit my way.
My past looped back to the present
and brought hope to my future.
Simple insects, but more.
Their brilliant yet elusive light,
fills my heart once again.
If summer is the loveliest season, and I think it is, they should move poetry month from April to June. Spiteful poems, angry poems, and poems that harbor hate do exist I admit. But the poems that move us are about love.
Enjoy summer. Read a poem. Join us at Open Table Church on the third Thursday if you want. Next one is July 20. Enter through the south door on Jackson Street. Everyone is welcome.