There are just some stories or images that won’t allow themselves to spread all over the paper like a big oil spill. Instead they demand a shape, crafted tightly no matter how much I just want to sprawl. Like elastic bands that I attempt to stretch across a space too wide, when let go they snap into the poems they are intended to be. That’s what poetry is for me, and I don’t find it easy, no matter the type.
Ever since being introduced to haiku I wake, aim for the back porch, catching a cup of coffee on the way, and hoping to find that short little muse of the day: in the sky, maybe beyond the bunkhouse, or perched on a branch of one of the pines just outside my kitchen window. Often they are hidden until later in the day when deep in dish water at the sink, a robin in that very tree, bombs a feather mid-flight snatching it back into the nest building. Where’s my pen? Sometimes the perfect syllable doesn’t arrive for days, maybe it comes to me waiting in the grocery line.
For me poetry starts with an image, a message, a series of words that sing, then comes the crafting, next the editing: first with self, then reaching out to others.
Finally it comes to encouraging, using my experiences to draw out others. That’s the reason for the WyoPoets-sponsored “Eugene V. Shea” National Poetry contest and my participation for three years now as its director. Hundreds of poems come my way, the mailbox a funnel from me to a gifted and generous judge. Imagine the trust of poets sharing their talented artistry and painstaking work with me, a stranger. I remember names from year to year, watch a first year effort ignored, then honored in new words and knowledge several years later. Contests are challenges to complete the work, confidence to enter it there and finally the will to tackle another no matter the contest judge’s results.
I have been part of the writing world since telling my first story in a one-room country school in eastern South Dakota. Life brought me to a new state, and WyoPoets has been my continuing education since its inception, along with being a member of Wyoming Writers nearly from the beginning. I have so many poets who have shaped my ideas about what poetry really is, too many to thank, but they all live in every word I put to paper. Blessings from those friendships abound.
A crow circles tightly,
iridescent wing feathers flashing
sweeps toward me,
as I climb through an opening in the wire.
Then on an updraft he clears centuries-old white pine,
antique clay pots house dandelion clusters;
veers down to follow sagging fences
that isolate graveyard
from croplands beyond.
I slip back in time where
wind-tossed plastic vases
bench themselves among plots;
monuments honor pioneer families,
cast long shadows on shallow markers.
I wander from stone to stone,
trace etched names upon my fingers;
remember aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends.
Ludwig, Anderson, Figbom, Heyl-
names that rolled in favorite stores from my father’s lips.
While faces of neighbors blur,
their horses I remember launched
my language in the roll of their names
across my tottering tongue,
as one of those gathered
would swing me up top
the harnessed beast,
then turn to discuss
weather, hog prices, dreams.
Beyond woven wire
I see my church through a broader gate,
in a patch of cheat grass,
though burned to the ground in ’58.
I climb hand-planted rock steps,
kneel at the altar,
path fades to sod. Here, in shadow of farmer’s field
hear my mother’s eulogy,
feel my father’s sorrow
through a callused hand
clinging tightly to my own.
I find myself at the far end
of the cemetery, beyond where
amid music of corn growing,
lies a tiny stone with two names,
inviting me to kneel again,
just beyond reach of my sister
buried in my mother’s arms.
Warped by age and element,
the ornate iron gate
rails against my efforts to re-lock its raspy latch.
welded metal joints groan,
rust-tinged paint flakes
float down like cotton seed
to cloak the overgrown path below.
Nancy Heyl Ruskowsky