Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Three Poems in Elohi Gadugi

I’m stealing this idea from Oregon poet Katie Eberhart, who recently did a blog post with some comments on four of her poems that were published in the online journal Elohi Gadugi. Sort of like liner notes for poems. I liked that, so I’m doing the same: Happily, I have three poems in that same issue of Elohi Gadugi, which has the theme of “Root and Branch.” Click on each poem’s title to go to the site and read them.

This was the first poem I wrote after moving to Ashland in 2006. I pulled into town on a cold February night, tired and frazzled after a six-hour drive over the mountains with my three cats in a Mazda with a bad transmission. I hauled the cat carriers into the new house and discovered that it was literally freezing in there; the heat had been off for weeks. That first night I struggled to figure out the Byzantine heating system and unpacked the few belongings I’d stuffed in the car. (My furniture, on a truck somewhere, wouldn’t arrive for another week.) A queasy feeling crept over me, the same one I get when I’m traveling and find myself stuck in a dirty motel room, cars roaring by outside: What the hell made me think this was a good idea? The next day—sunny, bright, and still ice-cold—a friend arrived with a pot of crocuses that were just starting to poke their pointy leaves above the soil. The crocuses and I lived together over the next few weeks. I can’t say I blossomed as they did; that’s too pat, too simple. In truth, it took me a while to get my bearings and figure out who I was in this new world. But I kept looking at those crocuses and envying their apparent faith, how they climbed toward light regardless of what they might find up there.

A few weeks after I moved into that first house in Ashland, I heard a frog one night. It sounded brave and lonely, a sweet, squeaky-hinge kind of croak. A few days later, a higher-pitched buddy joined in—now there were two ribbits competing. Soon a third one added his voice, then a few more…and by mid-April, it sounded like there were about 6,000 of them out there, a raucous, love-starved Hallelujah chorus every night. They all seemed to be crowded into my next-door neighbor’s yard, and when I met this neighbor, the first thing out of her mouth was, “Hi, sorry about the frogs.” It turned out this was a yearly ritual in her backyard pond: The frogs would start doing their thing in March and keep at it until summer. Even though I moved away two years ago, those frogs still show up in a lot of poems. I never, ever got tired of them. They always reminded me that I lived in the Northwest, where wild things happen.

In late fall, I always seem to be the last gardener on the block to tear out the summer vegetables. I wait and wait until the tomatoes and beans and squash are finally, brutally, irrevocably burned and blackened by frost. Similarly, I’m often the last to leave a party. I guess it gets back to faith again—the idea that something exciting and unexpected could still happen, even though the hosts have fallen asleep on the couch. We could get a weird warm spell in December and maybe the beans will bloom again. I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of a miracle. But part of it is also a fascination with how unripe tomatoes go into a sort of suspended animation in freezing weather: They look alive, but they’re green and hard as marbles and will pretty much stay that way unless you bring them inside to ripen. Even then, they’re not quite what they should be, as if part of them has been drained out and refilled in a chemistry lab. Bite into one, and it’s like tasting an ersatz life. It’s all part of the dream of winter, like those barefoot summer days that seem like they happened to someone else.