It’s quite cold in Alaska right now. The kind of blue cracking cold that is beautiful but stinging. The kind of cold that makes iron of snow and ice beneath all. And yet, it’s important to get outside, to fill our eyes with sunlight, to remember that this time has beauty unavailable at other, perhaps more temperate, times of year.
Lines for Winter
Tell yourself as it gets cold and gray falls from the air that you will go on walking, hearing the same tune no matter where you find yourself— inside the dome of dark or under the cracking white of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow. Tonight as it gets cold tell yourself what you know which is nothing but the tune your bones play as you keep going. And you will be able for once to lie down under the small fire of winter stars. And if it happens that you cannot go on or turn back and you find yourself where you will be at the end, tell yourself in that final flowing of cold through your limbs that you love what you are.
Even though the light is coming back, there is still plenty of darkness (actual and perhaps metaphorical to go around. Thank you Terri Windling for reminding me of this beauty.)
What is the single most important thing for a young poet to know about writing poetry?
Today’s answer, since tomorrow’s would surely be different: Write the poem that only you could have written.
Trust your experience of the world, of your own life, of the poem. Trust that the world matters, that your life matters, that your words matter. Then doubt all these things enough to ask if what you’ve written is sufficient, surprising, contains art’s mysterious surplus. Has the poem found something that it, and you, did not know before it was written? Have you found fully and accurately the images, the phrases, the story, the feeling, the arc and surge of transformation? Then trust again, because if you only doubt, you will overwork the dough until no living yeast remains in it; if you over-doubt, you will try to please others instead of your own sense of the poem, of your life, of the world. Be willing for your work to be odd, peculiar, to be itself in the way a giraffe is itself and knows no other shape or gait of being. By such strange inventions of existence, the poem becomes the poem, the world becomes the world, a person becomes, perhaps, a more fully human person.
I read this poem last year when it was a finalist in the Terrain.org Poetry Contest. Then, I bought both of Cecily Parks’s books. I couldn’t get this poem out of my mind, and now a year later, I’m still thinking about it. I’m sharing it here, but go read the rest of her work on Terrain.org (and surf around and read a bunch more on their site because it’s awesome).
If You Were to Build a Coyote
If you were to build a coyote with your child, you might begin
with a leaf pile as big around as your child’s arms.
You might place the leaves into a trash bag.
You might cut out triangles from brown paper
grocery bags using the blunt-tipped scissors with purple handles
that your child can use to cut by herself. You might guide
her hands. Two triangles for ears, one upside-down triangle
for a face. A piece of brown twine you found in the garden
for a tail. If you don’t make legs
for your coyote, she can’t run away from you,
you might tell your child, who solemnly nods and hugs
the crackling animal she’s made. The coyote,
you might tell your child, figures greatly in American Indian mythology
as a trickster. The trick is that the coyote
hunts the rats and the pomegranates rotting in the grass
or pushes her black nose through the soft shit-steaming diapers,
coffee grounds, and avocado peels we put outside
our house. The trick is that the coyote has learned to live
with ryegrass and trash cans, mountain laurel and the moist low places
in the garden. You might tell your child that at night
the coyote drinks the rainwater pooled in the smooth white stones
outside her bedroom window. With a rough warm tongue.
If you wake up in the night, you might hear her lapping, and it sounds
like water dripping in the sink. If you step out of your bed
and go to the window, the coyote will turn to you
with hazel eyes, regard you coolly until she sees
that it’s you, the one who made her,
and then she might tell you about her night, and yours.
by Cecily Parks
PS The hill that I live on is called “Coyote Hill” by some of the locals. We do indeed have a group that lives above us, and who come to the edge of the bench to call and watch. The sounds of the revelry is at once chilling and exhilarating.