{pf: poetry sisters “in the style of”}

Welcome, February, that shortest month, which is crammed with celebrations of African Americans, romance, presidents, and, oddly, pie. And cherries – though I am afraid the blossoms will this year be somewhat delayed. Nevertheless, we celebrate – and please join us in welcoming scientist and fellow word nerd, Rebecca Holmes as she joins the poet-ing this month.

The first time I read Marilyn Nelson’s “Minor Miracle” I thought to myself that this was her “Incident” poem. “Incident,” by Countee Cullen, is a short, and unemotional rendering of a small child’s trip to Baltimore, and the emotional stab at the end is not worse than the first, but somehow more painful for the lack of bleeding. In Nelson’s poem, the unemotional accounting persists and allows the reader space to take in both the offense and the conclusion from the same distance. It is a small moment, writ large emotionally. Our task this month was to write a poem “in the style of” Marilyn Nelson’s work, and identify and acknowledge a minor miracle of our own.

Part of the fun this month was our return to collaborative poetry. One of the gifts of writing in a group is observing processes, asking questions, and helping to illuminate the areas in which we are struggling. Oh, and yeah: we struggled. As always. Many of us wanted to grapple with a much bigger topic and make more of a compelling statement, but Nelson’s genius is in crystallizing little moments. So, we step back, dug a little deeper, and tried again.

Poetry’s very brevity makes writing about the nuances of mental states much more accessible, and Marilyn Nelson’s unemotional style helps me to center the reader in my mental space – an infinitesimal speck in a suddenly too-big world, at a loss both individual and commonly held. We have all of us, at one time or another, been lost and found:

Oban to Glasgow 18

lost and found

Which reminds me of another road
four ribbons of sun-bright black unspooling and I,
On some needful errand, motored on, serene,
toward erasure:
The highway my wheels touched, at once
the same as all other roads, both known and
wildly unfamiliar. I slowed, crept, edged
toward its rigid graveled margins, blinking
eyes gone wide and stinging,
                    Lost is a path with criss-crossing tracks.
                        Lost is a tall tree in a quiet clearing,
                            And ten thousand acres of green.
A road, going somewhere,
An exit, and a faded service station.
Big trucks and diesel, hard-faced men in trucker hats
And a neutral beige efficiency car,
lost in the middle of too close to be too far gone.
Embarrassment tangled my fingers as I sought my phone –
No coverage in my area, no money for a map.
Pride swallowed, I called my Compass. Collect.
Static on the payphone line, as I recited
The words to shape the world: my street, my city, my state.
Landmarks affixed in the jumble of my universe.
  With help, it doesn’t take long to rewind the world.
    Heard over my heartbeat, words of direction
      A moment of grace, and the panic receded.
Finding the onramp took more time than the call:
Get back on the highway, pass two more exits, take the third.
Inaudible breath, and the world regains focus.
                    Found is a mesa set over a valley.
                        Found is a boulder, feet kissed by the surf
                            A place to climb out of the sea.

The Poetry Sisters Write: Brace for a rough landing with Liz, discover a mystery poem from Tricia, visit Andi, whose poem has both claws and skitter; read Sara’s poem, which made us wince; see Laura’s poem, which reveals our inadequacies, and enjoy Kelly’s poem, written in the throes of aunt-ing.

Wait, there’s more! Poetry Friday today is at Tabatha Yeatts’ blog, The Opposite of Indifference. Happy February – happy weekend, and happy poetry. Stay warm and dry!

8 Replies to “{pf: poetry sisters “in the style of”}”

  1. So many lines to love here, and love them I do. Such an accurate recreation of the panic (I’ve known it well!) and of the moment of grace. I love the call to your Compass.

    “With help, it doesn’t take long to rewind the world.”


  2. As always, I love your introduction nearly as much as your poem — you offer up such heartfelt and astute and, honestly, important musings every time. And the poem itself… the getting lost and then the panic receding. It’s so familiar that my heart raced….

  3. I can’t get over how I read and reread and couldn’t *uite find the moment where you got lost, only the moment much later when you realized you were lost, which I think is how it happened to you. Just suddenly “no money for a map.” Maybe that’s my menobrain at work, unreliably, or maybe that’s your genius.

  4. May there alway be a Compass to show us the way back home. May there always be landmarks in the jumble of our Universe.

    Thank you (both singular–you are–and plural–you+Poetry Sisters) for this month’s challenge. The weeks you post are my favorite in the Poetry Friday scheme of things.

  5. I could certainly relate to that feeling of panic you describe so well. Was SO relieved that there was enough money to call collect and that there was a payphone nearby (what are those anymore?).

    This was a great challenge for the Poetry Sisters. I love reading narrative poems that pack so much punch in a small space. There was palpable emotion expressed and a sense of immediacy created so well in all of them. Truly edge of the seat stuff!

  6. I agree with Andi. I kept coming back to this line:
    lost in the middle of too close to be too far gone

    I never got back to the Google doc after posting my poem, so I haven’t seen all the poems this week. While part of me loves the notion of writing and critiquing together, there’s something joyful about the anticipation that builds waiting to see what everyone else has done with the prompt for the month.

    Okay, back to your poem. Your descriptions are lush and beautiful. And as my heart squeezed a bit in nervousness as I read about the driver’s predicament, it immediately flooded with warmth upon reading “I called my Compass.”

  7. I am reading LOTR again right now, and this road poem reminds me of Bilbo’s Road Goes Ever On song. Remember how he said it was dangerous to step out your door onto the road?
    “The highway my wheels touched, at once
    the same as all other roads, both known and
    wildly unfamiliar.”
    Also, this line: “lost in the middle of too close to be too far gone.” is really grabbing me. I often feel that way! Thank God for grace when we’ve got “No coverage in my area, no money for a map.” and there is someone on the other end of a pay phone that accepts collect calls! Your poem is so speaking to me.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.