Sunday, April 07, 2013

national poetry month: marie howe

Once again it's April and National Poetry Month.  I tend to need prodding toward toward poetry-reading so National Poetry Month is a good reminder that I need to get out of my (primarily fiction) prose reading rut.  While I don't read much poetry on a regular basis, I welcome April and its "required" reading. 

My first offering for 2013 is a poem from New York State's current poet laureate,1 Marie Howe.
What a killer first line.

"What Angels Left" by Marie Howe
At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.

Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar

where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,

or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt

among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out

to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,

every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them

when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something

that felt oddly like grace? It occurred to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion

to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly

—exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation

or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.
"What the Angels Left" was published in The Good Thief, a collection that was selected by Margaret Atwood as a winner in the 1987 Open Competition of the National Poetry Series.
  1. Previous holders of this post are Stanley Kunitz (1987-1989), Robert Creeley (1989-1991), Audre Lorde (1991-1993), Richard Howard (1993-1995), Jane Cooper (1995-1997), Sharon Olds (1998-2000), John Ashbery (2001-2003), Billy Collins (2004-2006), Jean Valentine (2008-2010).

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