Sunday, September 18, 2005

American Life in Poetry: Column 025

Emily Dickinson said that poems come at the truth at a slant. Here a birdbath and some overturned chairs on a nursing home lawn suggest the frailties of old age. Masterful poems choose the very best words and put them in the very best places, and Michigan poet Rodney Torreson has deftly chosen "ministers" for his first verb, an active verb that suggests the good work of the nursing home's chaplain.

The Bethlehem Nursing Home

A birdbath ministers
to the lawn chairs,
all toppled: a recliner
on its face, metal arms
trying to push it up;
an overturned rocker,
curvature of the spine.
Armchairs on their sides,
webbing unraveled.
One faces the flowers.
A director's chair
folded, as if prepared
to be taken up.

From "A Breathable Light," New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2002, and first published in "Cape Rock". Copyright © 2002 by Rodney Torreson; reprinted by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

From the publisher's comments:
A Breathable Light takes the human figure out of his seat in the foreground, strips him of all privileges and asks him to understand himself as nature understands him. . . Thus, as an old gate-post settles into mud, the farmer sees his own quietly abandoned ambition; night falls and a tractor starts up of its own accord; the family dog has wool scraps in its teeth; a saddle slips and the upended rider finds himself galloping in air, “head striking the / grassy sky until [he sees] stars . . .” This is the truth about nature and human nature, and in forty-four beautifully uncluttered poems Torreson shows us the world as it’s always been—a realm of unrelenting wonder.

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