The Light Along Braided Creek

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

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)

Well…exactly.

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