Short poems can seem light, slight…a thrown-off thought, a casual aside. But leave the world of nursery rhymes and limericks and there are wonders to behold in a few well-chosen lines.
That was my experience reading the collection of poems in Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry. In the midst of a serious illness, U.S. poet laureate Ted Kooser began a correspondence with fellow Western poet and novelist Jim Harrison (Legends of the Fall). The two aging writers traded 3-4 line aphorisms and collected them in Braided Creek without identifying which of them wrote which.
The result is deep and delightful. There are the expected reflections on aging and mortality:
At the end, just a pinch of the world
is all we have left to hold onto,
the hem of a sheet. (56)
But there are also witty observations that were no doubt true of many ages:
Sleeping on my right side I think
of God. On my left side, sex.
On my back I snore with my dog. (38)
Then there are the transcendent moments that are barely contained within the scant words reaching for something adequate to say:
Stars from horizon to horizon.
A whole half universe
just to light the path. (67)
All I want to be
is a thousand blackbirds
bursting from a tree
seeding the sky. (4)
I discovered this 2003 collection while reading Winn Collier’s great new biography of Eugene Peterson, A Burning in My Bones. Evidently Peterson spent his later years in company with this book. Peterson, like Harrison, was a Montanan, but you don’t have to have a Western sensibility to appreciate these poems.
It doesn’t hurt to have some age on you, though. Some lines will only hit when you can see the light of another world:
Each clock tick falls
like a raindrop,
right through the floor
as if it were nothing. (2)