tremoring with Mona Van Duyn

One of my favorite happenings in a poem is when something seemingly distant from our personal lives is brought closer. This week’s poem, “Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri” by Mona Van Duyn, is a profound meditation of a far-off quake deemed “nothing personal.” The speaker in this poem pushes against this assertion and interrogates the possible meanings of the tremors felt. The poem becomes a space for lingering and dwelling, the most exquisite moments of which happen in the second stanza:

But the earth said last night that what I feel,
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me.
One small, sensuous catastrophe
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

milky wayHere, I’m moved by the turn from the outside world to the inner workings between two people. Not only is the natural occurrence put in terms of a relationship, it becomes conspiratorial. When the speaker notes “what secretly moves you, moves me” and makes it a suggestion from the earth itself, the far-off motion of a quake is juxtaposed with desire. Suddenly what is privately known is, for a moment, potentially exposed.

That the form of the poem is a sonnet further adds to the conspiratorial argument. In fourteen lines of rhymed and nuanced pacing, we are invited into the tremors of another’s thoughts.

Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri – Mona Van Duyn

The quake last night was nothing personal,
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders,
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.

But the earth said last night that what I feel,
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me.
One small, sensuous catastrophe
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

The earth, with others on it, turns in its course
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross,
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell
to planets, nearing the universal roll,
in our conceit even comprehending the sun,
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.

from Selected Poems (Knopf 2003)

* reading with wayne miller

This week, I thought I’d share a poem from Wayne Miller’s latest collection, Post- (Milkweed Editions), which I wrote about earlier this week for the Cincinnati Review blog.

In my review of the book, I spoke about poems that engaged with the idea of inheritance in relation to the nature of language itself. This week’s poem, “Inside the Book,” explores such territory.

In this poem, the speaker meditates on their daughter’s efforts at reading “these trenches of script.” The lyric quickly develops a sense of the physicality of reading; when the daughter is described as wanting “to lift that world / into her own,” the reading act is being understood as a visceral experience. The effort is narrated in physical terms, which imbues the daughter narrative with a great deal of determination.

This meeting of “worlds” culminates in an ending that takes the poem, poet, and reader to a metaphysical level, indirectly pointing out the ways in which language and reading act as hinges between us.



Inside the Book – Wayne Miller

For my daughter: these images,
these trenches of script. She keeps
reaching to pull them
from the page, as if the book
were an opened cabinet;

every time, the page
blocks her hand. They’re right
there –
those pictures
vivid as stained glass,
those tiny, inscrutable knots.

They hang in that space
where a world was built
in fits and erasures – she wants
to lift that world
into her own.

Meanwhile, this world
floods her thoughts,
her voice; it fills
the windows, the streets
she moves through;

it reaches into her
as the air reaches into her lungs.
Then, before we know it,
here she is with us
inside the book.


Happying booking!


* where the poet is: a personal note

candle vigilIn an essay entitled “Tough Eloquence,” poet Yusef Komuyakaa writes about the life and work of Etheridge Knight. There’s a story and poem towards the end of the essay that has always stayed with me throughout the years:

“Etheridge Knight died in March 1991. For more than a year before, at various readings, he’d say a poem by Melissa Orion, “Where is the Poet?” He often used to say he wished he’d written it. Of course, he had memorized the poem, as if reciting his own elegy:

So I went to Soweto and asked the wounded
Have you seen my friend the poet?

Oh no, answered the wounded, but we’re longing to
see him
before we die

Maybe you should go to the prisons, they said
where there is loneliness, the poet should be”

Orlando has been on my mind all week, in my conversations with Ani as much as in my conversations on social media, but also in my heart, in my silences and loneliness. In my classroom, we have been having some difficult conversations about problematization and empathy, and I am proud of my students’ generosity to have these conversations, to discuss difficult issues with open minds. It’s done much for my spirit.

Through the many conversations, I have not had to wonder where the poet is. This piece by Denice Frohman as well as this poem by Roy G. Guzmán  and this one by Christopher Soto (aka Loma) have meant much to me and others this week, and I share them for anyone in need of insight, solace, or catharsis.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who reads this blog and shares in the community, poetry, and positive energy of the weekly posts. I write driven by a faith in poetry, in words being a place where the ideas and emotions of life that overwhelm us at times can meet,  mingle, and make a sort of sense to us, glimpses of the reality we share.

To everyone who stops by, thank you for sharing.