Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Thinking about Poetry

Yesterday's rant about feeling down on a holiday seemed to do the trick. Once I hit the "post" button, I headed down stairs to tackle the garage. The garage is about as tidy as it will probably ever be. While we were cleaning, we found lots of things we'd lost of late, like the new pair of pruning shears, a set of garden gloves that fit my hands, and those old pair of flip flops I like to wear when we go swimming at the lake. Ah, a day well spent.

While I was mowing the lawn, Rolvaag's story about the old settlers in the Dakotas reminded me about a poem by Kevin Stein. Stein is Bradley professor, Poet Laureate for Illinois, and a local celebrity. He even has his own website. Something about Beret's story, a hard life made more difficult by fear, reminded me of one of the Stein poems I read in grad school. So I've dusted off my grad school books to find it. Here's a couple of stanzas from "St. Andrew's Catholic Men's Choir, after Practice, at Blickwedel's Tavern and Grocery," one of the last poem in the collection Bruised Paradise.

Looking back, I overlooked that truth
like a lazy mushroom hunter too foolish to paw beneath spring's wet leaves. I'd met
my wife at choir, her loveliness less of flesh
than the notion philosophers call essence,
what other men refuse to name for fear
they'll destroy, or understand, it--

either way it's gone, irretrievable
as first-ploughed prairie, its departure
attended by that ripping sound soil makes
as a blade cleaves its weave of big bluestems,
cornflower, chickory and more. Lord knows,
these women have little to show for it:

stooped backs, breasts that sag from their
intended use, a gold ring the only thing
that shines besides their blue-gray eyes,
bright with slant light sluiced through
glazed glass, children too young for lager
circled and shimmering at their feet.

The poem goes on, describing a typical immigrant's tale. The poem ends with the voice of the poem, an old farmer who's out drinking after church with his buddies, choked up at the thought of the life he's given his wife. So he asks god, "Why bless me?" It's a fitting tribute to the tough women who pushed plows through clay soil, drove oxen, sheared sheep, cooked dinner over buffalo chip fires, and lived in a sod house through long midwestern winters.

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