Is it a poem?
Sometimes, in the middle of our errands, we stop at Petco so I can look at the kittens. Maybe we are on our way to lunch, or to get groceries. It doesn’t matter. He turns the car around. We read the name plates above the adult cats, telling them hello and that they are still special, even though they are older. Then we bend down and let the kittens bat their paws at our fingers through their cages. We glance at the hamsters, and check - just in case - for puppies.
Is there a poem in that?
I was talking to a friend about writing the other day, and the common question came up: what makes a poem a poem? Is it consistent meter? Rhyme? Where the lines break? Does the content have to be a puzzle, or can it be clear, even blunt?
On Sunday, I cut some peonies off the bushes in the church courtyard, arranged them in vases, then placed them around my husband’s pulpit. After church, I bundled them up and gave them to a woman who lost her home - and her garden - in the recent floods here in the midwest. She thanked me, but they aren’t from the bushes she planted. The ones she could count on, every spring.
Later that day, I checked my own garden to see if our deep pink peonies had bloomed yet. When I reached for one that had just opened its petals, I slipped on a soggy piece of wood, and fell on my face. I brushed myself off and went to show Evan the bouquet. He looked right past the flowers, to my limp and muddy knees. He hugged me tight and whispered, “please be careful with yourself, my love.”
Are these potentials poems, or just flowers, floods, and muddy knees?
I watch Evan brush Frank’s fur in the sunshine.
I fold laundry to the sound of Leonard Cohen.
I talk to my mom on the phone about the people we both know.
I think about what I’ve lost. I let it sting. Then I think even longer about what I’ve gained.
I put the kettle on for tea. Soon it will sing.
What can we say about poetry?
“Call it a field where the animals
who were forgotten by the Ark
come to graze under the evening clouds.”
At least that’s what Billy Collins would say. Poetry is the green. The forgotten. Feasting under storm clouds.
Is it possible that poetry is even the mosquitos that drove me from my hammock outside back into my living room chair? I hate them. But did you know that they are born in water? That they learn to swim before they learn to fly?
I watch seeds that look like feathers float, lazy, in the sky. I notice that the maple seeds, which helicoptered down last week, have sprouted in the moisture of my outdoor rug. And in a shallow pile of leaves on the cement. It will never become a full grown tree. But at least it tried.
Listen to this sketch