Thursday, December 11, 2014

I am not a poet

I think I took one poetry course in college. I love reading poetry, but I hate discussing it in any intellectual capacity. It completely ruins it for me. You read this poem that give you this instant visceral reaction. It's like you just had great sex, or ate the worlds best brownie and somebody wants you to write a paper about it with words like "didactic" and "epistimology" and "antidisestablishmentarianism" and you just want to sit and swoon and enjoy your brownie, or your partner.

There are a couple of horse poems out there that leave me in a state of wonder. The first is Credo by Maxine Kumin. Twenty Something years ago, she came to Sarah Lawrence College to read on a Thursday night. How do I know it was a Thursday night? Because I showed up in my riding clothes, because Thursday was the night I had my weekly lesson at the dreary Twin Lakes barn in Bronxville. There was no time to change. I parked my 1978 Datsun and went running for the auditorium. Of course all the sneaky seats in the back were taken so I had to sit in the front row in my stinky clothes. I didn't know much about Maxine Kumin. In fact, I'm not sure what even brought me to that room that night. Poetry wasn't really my thing. Somebody I respected must have told me to get my ass into that auditorium because I doubt "poetry reading" would have been high on my self proscribed to do list. So there I was in my ill fitting boots and cheap breeches in the front row losing myself in a world of the New Hampshire wilderness feeling vaguely homesick for Western Mass when she read this:

Credo - Maxine Kumin

I believe in magic. I believe in the rights
of animals to leap out of our skins
as recorded in the Kiowa legend:
Directly there was a bear where the boy had been

as I believe in the resurrected wake-robin,
first wet knob of trillium to knock
in April at the underside of earth's door
in central New Hampshire where bears are

though still denned up at that early greening.
I believe in living on grateful terms
with the earth, with the black crumbles
of ancient manure that sift through my fingers

when I topdress the garden for winter. I believe
in the wet strings of earthworms aroused out of season
and in the bear, asleep now in the rock cave
where my outermost pasture abuts the forest.

I cede him a swale of chokecherries in August.
I give the sow and her cub as much yardage
as they desire when our paths intersect
as does my horse shifting under me

respectful but not cowed by our encounter.
I believe in the gift of the horse, which is magic,
their deep fear-snorts in play when the wind comes up,
the ballet of nip and jostle, plunge and crow hop.

I trust them to run from me, necks arched in a full
swan's S, tails cocked up over their backs
like plumes on a Cavalier's hat. I trust them
to gallop back, skid to a stop, their nostrils

level with my mouth, asking for my human breath
that they may test its intent, taste the smell of it.
I believe in myself as their sanctuary
and the earth with its summer plumes of carrots,

its clamber peas, beans, masses of tendrils
as mine. I believe in the acrobatics of boy
into bear, the grace of animals
in my keeping, the thrust to go on.

Then she said she'd spare us any more horse poems and I shouted "NO!" and she looked me up and down with a conspiratorial appraisal and said "I see we have someone in the front row ready to ride!"

Maxine Kumin passed away earlier this year. I keep a few books of her poetry around the house. But this one (without too much analysis) shows my heart to the world. It's as if she reached into my soul and said, I'm going to explain how you feel about horses (and nature) in a REALLY beautiful concise way, that's going to make you cry? 'K bye! And by the way, you could never hope to articulate anything like this EVER.

And she did. And it is beautiful.

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