April is National Poetry Month and, one week into it, I was pleasantly surprised to get a postcard from a friend in Richmond who wrote, “Trying times for us all, but there are moments of clarity. I was drawn back to your poem The Stones Deliver a Sermon on the Duty of Staying Home.” It’s not often that a poem of mine (or a book that includes it) gets noticed by either friend or enemy, so I started thinking.
I’ve been fishing the New York trout streams near my home this past week (maintaining requisite social distance, of course), and looking for… well… poetry and fish. It’s been a satisfying endeavor, although certain streams were frustrating– shy of their usual numbers of trout, if not of poetry.
The poem that my postcard pal referred to starts with “Verily we say unto you/ O passerby: We were cursed,/ called stumbling stones,/ fragments fallen from/ a single rock in Heaven’s field…”. Yup. Fishing this week, I probably stumbled over some of those stones (I need cleated soles again) and cursed the poor things more than they deserved. Nonetheless, there were elements of poetry in the wild and hatchery fish, in the chorusing of song birds on the streambanks, in the greening mat of wild leeks on the forest floor.
I’d been mindless of National Poetry Month, but reading works by Frost and Pound and Boccaccio nonetheless– the latter’s ancient volume, The Decameron, is especially apropos given our current health crisis. I mean, a guy can’t just fish and hike all day, without a dash of culture… for balance… can he?
My friend’s postcard quoted the last few lines of “The Stones Deliver a Sermon on the Duty of Staying Home”: … Blessed are the persecuted and the lonely,/ blessed, the poor who stay at home,/ for the righteous and unknowing find/ no Heaven there. Please don’t tell me that those stumbling stones, the old stone fences near abandoned fields (having aided farmers till the “futile harvests followed”) are dumb as rocks.
And lastly, from Wings Over Water (please forgive, but there’s no other way to plug a new book in these days of global turmoil)… “I like to find poetry in the world, in the elements surrounding us, waiting for connection and interpretation. I like to translate what is raw and flex it into ordinary words. That process, I suppose, is one facet of my job as naturalist…”
Everyone has a personal framework in the world of nature, but so many have forgotten what that framework is, or allowed the social world to smash it. Still, “We have ways of realigning our humanity… with the history of our kind and with our hope for future days…” The lands and waters can assist us in getting straight, or realigned.
“They speak directly and to the point. They speak the poetry of life.”