First Lines — Many human hearts
- Published: December 28, 2020
News editor Megan Bachman approached me two autumns ago to launch a poetry column. I loved the idea, and gave an immediate “yes.” The first column ran in November of 2018. Since then, this space has featured poems by 18 different local and area poets, plus a couple of my own. I’ve been proud and happy and deeply grateful to talk with poets and present their work to local readers.
But the column has slowed down in recent months. The flow of poems has dwindled, and my attention has been pulled away — into reporting on the pandemic and other topics for the News, and into my own poetry.
As the year turns, I am ending my rich and wonderful time as a reporter for the News. And I am putting this column to rest. It’s been a lovely run! So many voices and images, so much spirit. Poetry is the language of inner life. I love the privacy of a poem. It’s a privacy where you encounter someone else.
There’s a John Haines poem that speaks to this, called “The Hermitage.” Haines was a 20th-century poet of the Alaskan wilderness. He spent his days and nights in considerable isolation. An isolation starker and more existential than the one we’re called upon to practice at the moment. Yet it’s not loneliness that strikes me about his poems, but a strong connection to life.
Here are the last two stanzas (of four) from “The Hermitage”:
No one comes to see me,
but I hear outside
the scratching of claws,
the warm, inquisitive breath …
And once in a strange silence
I felt quite close
the beating of a human heart.
I have felt close to the beating of numerous human hearts in writing this column.
Here is another poem, one of my own. The final image is from my childhood. Our kitchen had a wall phone, beige and with a long spiral cord that allowed you to busy yourself with other things as you spoke, or perhaps (as this poem recalls) coil the cord around and around your hand, the cord with its living thread of warm breath. Close and far, far and close.
Night. Moonlight. A large vacuuming hum
from the fields beyond the fields.
We walk outside to scan the Leonids.
Too much light. Or the sound has frightened them.
In the middle of November we dream
of wearing wings to fly. Long and sloped
like the walls that angle into the ocean.
Machines complete the harvest.
Into the gash of silence pours a line of geese.
The unseen meteors spiral around earth
like an old-fashioned telephone cord. Around and around
they wrap as by some hand, as people once did
idly in the kitchens of loneliness.
Thank you for reading, and be well! All past columns are available here.
*This final poetry column ran in the Dec. 10 issue of the News.