I have an odd pile of books on my desk this morning. Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. Inconspicuous Consumption: The environmental impact you don’t know you have. How to Love a Country. Langston Hughes – Selected Poems. The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Diary.

There are nine other books and a rhyming dictionary also piled on. I need to sort through my shelves again. And I seriously need to stop buying books for a while. All the things I would love to do with my time. More reading. Perhaps reviewing. Certainly celebrating the poets I love. Deciding what projects to take on can be overwhelming. And there is fitting it into a life with a day job that can suck the joy right from the source at times.

Books make me feel less alone. Less peculiar. I have noticed that when I feel isolated and lonely, I go on book-buying sprees. Every book is a potential: this one will save me. I blame it on my religious upbringing: The Word is God. The answers are in the scripture. When every adult around you is an idiot, there is a near-ancient authority that has left riddles to be untangled.

There is hope, here: on the page. In the verses that sing.

I’m taking a course on visual poetry right now and am fascinated by asemic poetry. I am surprisingly drawn to it. Moved by it. After spending years studying formal poetry and analyzing poems with a chair and a rubber hose (despite Billy Collin’s objections), I am finding an instinctive satisfaction in holding the handwriting up to the light. Acknowledging the humanity, the creative mind present. The philosopher Denis Dutton said that one of the universal criteria for art is evidence of individual expression. Another is craftsmanship. Another is that the work is somehow imbued with emotion.

And in my mind poetry is the leap we make between the poet’s material expression and the poet’s subjective experience that demanded expression. In other words, all poetry is itself a meta-metaphor: the poem is the vehicle and the poet’s subjective experience is the tenor. And it seems to me that if we recognize this vehicle/tenor without putting it into words (creating new metaphors), then we are perhaps communicating in a more directly visceral way.

People have worked for years trying to decipher the Voynich manuscript because we recognize the human hand. We have this feeling that there is something important here. If someone were to ever unlock the code (if there is one) it would no doubt be anti-climatic. Our intellectual evaluation of the work would suck the joy right out of the visceral experience. We would lose the emotional connection with the artist by creating an intellectual one. One step removed.

Let’s not know. Let’s let the mystery be.

E.’s mother tongue is not English, and often when he reads my poetry he says: It sings so beautifully. Sometimes he has no idea what the ten-letter words mean. Sometimes I have leaped too far between vehicle and tenor the metaphor is lost. But it sings.

That matters.

I am, however, not convinced that I can unlearn everything I have worked so hard to more-or-less master. I have been thinking that surely someone has already studied this with regard to the modernists. I am sure there are books on my shelf now that I would better understand were I to dive in now and read them again.

But I’m not going to. I’m going to stay here with the visceral, practical work. I’m going to move my hand over paper and play. And look at all the beautiful evidence of humanity on display.

A circle with lines
radiating from a center
and I understand
she feels the sun on her skin
and knows how to tell me this

(Or The Weight of Garments in the Pull of the Stream)

When we moved into this house,
the old woman was digging turnips from the ground
on a Sunday morning.

She would cut back the rhododendrons
when they began to block the walkway
to her front door. She would sort the decorative stones
blown into the flower beds. She would pull nets like swaddling
over the young fruit-

She told me she never enjoyed gardening before
she inherited the work from her husband.

Another four years, she tilled and planted
the small kitchen garden –
She tended and harvested. She died
in winter – now two years ago.

She’d slipped on the deck after pulling the last
of the year’s carrots from the ground
with her bare hands. It’s quickly done, the moss
growing so quickly over the boards from the end of summer.

They wrapped her light, bird-body
in a housecoat and drove her across town
where she floated away in a soft bed, in clean sheets.

On Sunday I’ll rouse myself to work in the garden.
I’ll sort the bark from the marble stones we brought in this summer
to surround the new, blue ceramic birdbath. I’ll check
the hedgehog’s water bowl we keep hidden in the holly hedge.

I’ll clear out the beds of my new, little greenhouses –
crowded with the sweet potato shoots that never took hold
and the blood-veined leaves of beetroots that are rotting
into the soil, preparing it for next spring.

I’ll try again

while the new neighbors park their car
where the old woman’s strawberries were. They’re talking
of paving over the yard entirely
since they like big gatherings at the week-ends.

The late autumn rain runs off the roofs of both our houses
and flows into the ditch that runs down the middle of the driveway –
leaving wayward stones, dead leaves, and plastic wrappers
in the trap.

There is still that to clear out on a Sunday morning.

Probably not the ideal veggie to greens ratio for parsnip?