Editor’s Note: “Poems to Listen By” is an audio series where over time we will explore some of the themes in the Poet Laura checklist, as well as Tweetspeak’s “Generosity” theme throughout 2021.
Poems to Listen By: Heart & Soil 06—Undertow
Presented by Laurie Klein
Welcome to Tweetspeak’s “Poems to Listen By.” I’m Laurie Klein, back with more poems from our new series: “Heart & Soil.”
An old Spanish proverb says: “Where the sea goes, let the sands go.”
With that timely—and tidal—wisdom in mind, listen to this haunting poem by Richard Maxson.
You see a beach,
of someone no longer there,
but you were there, of course
only you know this, you
and the one who walked away,
a stranger who caught your eye,
who returned your stare
and paused, waiting for you
to smile or wave.
In that moment, you felt the thin arc
of the ocean’s ebb
circling your feet, still and sinking,
and you knew you could follow the stranger
to a place unknown,
but you stood and stared and wondered,
as you do now, where only footprints
remain, whenever dreaming brings you here.
I wonder: Whose sandy footprints reappear for you? If you wrote a poem about them, how might it begin?
Author Margaret Atwood once said: “I was sand, I was snow, written on, rewritten, smoothed over.”
Moving from seashore to snowbank—then a little deeper, where “dirt is coming awake from its sodden dream”—here is Anne M. Doe Overstreet’s poem:
Last night I called my brother back east
who’s stalled deep in snow. At least
he has the profligate pleasure of his dog
plowing white hummocks with her nose. He says
his second daughter gives each unsullied drift
grave consideration before plunging in. In our yard,
the crocuses ignite, the barberry sheaths thorn
teeth in chartreuse. Such a relief, this change,
even for you, used to the perpetual grey, this moving
off and away of winter’s cumulonimbus threat of sleet.
Beneath us the microbes and root threads teem—
the dirt is coming awake from its sodden dream.
I think we’re expected to celebrate this visible
surge of life. However, I turn like Lot’s wife back
to when last month’s storm stripped naked
the architecture of the Crimson Glory vine,
to how you grasped my hand to counterbalance,
and the way we took the loss of certainty.
Deliberate and so tender with each step
cutting through the thin, crisp ice.
—Anne M. Doe Overstreet
I wonder: During times of lost certainty, have you ever felt you’re still expected to celebrate?
Who or what counterbalances you for that next step across thin ice? I hope you write about it.
You’ve just heard “Undertow,” by Richard Maxson, and “Envying Snow,” by Anne M. Doe Overstreet.
“Undertow,” by Richard Maxson, Editor at Every Day Poems. Used by permission.
“Envying Snow,” from Delicate Machinery Suspended: Poems (T. S. Poetry Press, 2011), by Anne M. Doe Overstreet. Used by permission.
Browse more Poems to Listen By
Photo by Tambako the Jaguar, Creative Commons via Flickr. Audio and script by Laurie Klein with thanks to Pat Stien for direction. “Simple Gifts” (public domain). Musical performance, recording, and mastering, by Bill Klein.
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