“I have to find a poem for English class…”

image Blythe Woolston’s Loa has a poem for today. It just so happens that it’s by my favorite poet. Here’s a bit from Woolston’s The Freak Observer:

I have to find a poem for English class. The whole class does. We have all been turned loose in the library on a scavenger hunt, an Easter egg hunt, and we are supposed to bring poems back. Song lyrics don’t count. There was much griping about that little point. I don’t know why Ms. (Heartless) Hart hates the librarian, but apparently she does. She shepherded us all through the halls and into the library. Then she disappeared.

Today there are people in the library who are never in the library. They just want to get this over with quickly. They swarm the help desk. I’d say “like maggots,” but they are noisy and calling out for poems about beer and suicide and vampires and baby deer. Maggots are pretty quiet, in my experience. I am quiet like a maggot. I don’t even ask for help. I pretend that I’m working on poetry, but instead, I’m writing about noisy maggots.

. . .

I haven’t spoken to my dad for a long time. We have nothing much to say. He tells me no stories. I ask him no questions. We don’t smile. Tonight, though, I said, “I need a poem. A poem about stars.”

He got up from the kitchen table and went to the shelves in the living room. He doesn’t search around. He goes right to the place on the shelf and pulls out a little book. He opens it and hands it to me:

Stars at Tallapoosa

The lines are straight and swift between the stars.

The night is not the cradle that they cry,

The criers, undulating the deep-oceaned phrase.

The lines are much too dark and much too sharp.

The mind herein attains simplicity,

There is no moon, no single, silvered leaf.

The body is no body to be seen

But is an eye that studies its black lid.

Let these be your delight, secretive hunter,

Wading the sea-lines, moist and ever mingling,

Mounting the earth-lines, long and lax, lethargic.

These lines are swift and fall without diverging.

The melon-flower nor dew nor web of either

Is like to these. But in yourself is like:

A sheaf of brilliant arrows flying straight,

Flying and falling straightaway for their pleasure,

Their pleasure that is all bright-edged and cold;

Or, if not arrows, then the nimblest motions,

Making recoveries of young nakedness

And the lost vehemence the midnights hold.

—Wallace Stevens, Harmonium, 1922

My dad doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t help me read. He doesn’t explain anything. He doesn’t have to, I guess.

I have never seen the ocean, so I’m not really sure about sea-lines, but I have seen the stars. And they aren’t really like dew or webs or what I guess a melon-flower might be. They are stars. I know that starlight travels in a straight line for longer than my whole life to reach my eye—but my eye being here is purely accidental. If I blink, that light is gone forever.

That has to be good enough.