October 20, 2017

Steve Abbott

THIS SHOULD BE A GOOD POEM

I’d never heard of a fire tornado until a late-summer newscast
explained how large dust devils mix with brush fires to create
a column of flame, and I thought of Israelites leaving Egypt.  
My wife looked up. Said, “That would make a good poem.”

This week, same story. Not the newscast, but once again
a family member or friend suggests a casual remark
on some fragment of living would “make a good poem.” 
Surprising new fact or everyday irony? That, too, they say.

Most of them are normal people, largely immune to poetry
except as a courtesy to me. But I still admire their reaching
to connect with what words can do. How they keep me out of
mischief, those flaming emails and irate letters to the editor.

It’s not that I want to ignore or dismiss the good intentions
of those who identify my vocation with the small things in
life, moving through our brief time together like field scouts
for the Muse, scouring the blue highways of America for

a promising quarterback to move this art down the field.
So much depends, after all, on our noticing what Neruda saw,
what Williams made remarkable in remarking on it—lemons
and forks and salt shakers, the nail in a woman’s shoe,

brown paper almost human in its tumbling down the street.  
I suppose I should be grateful, and appreciate how brief 
nods of others acknowledge and encourage this work, in that
awareness blessing themselves more than me or anything

as weightless as a poem. How strings of words can reveal
a mosaic’s host of fragments, bright shards that spark a return
to the everyday and find there reassurance in how small pieces
support the great weight of the world. That, too, a poem.

from Rattle #57, Summer 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets

[download audio]

__________

Steve Abbott: “The Rust Belt encompasses, depending on how you look at it, the northernmost Southern states or the easternmost Plains states. Right now, particularly in Ohio where I’ve lived my life, it’s a swath of nostalgia, resentment, and disorientation polluted by political opportunism and corporate venality. Some see the struggle here as rural vs. urban, but it’s actually conflict between those who want to keep living with people just like themselves and those who are accustomed or open to interacting with people of different races, cultures, religions, ideas, and appearances. The proximity of the two groups provides a high-resolution lens a poet can use to view contemporary American life—sometimes appalling, sometimes inspiring, but always deeply human.”

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