Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What The Living Do by Marie Howe

I read this book in Borders yesterday. It was one of those beautiful, falling in love experiences where the words wrapped around me like vines until nothing around me was recognized, only the world that these poems were making. A true transportation into the writer's unique view of the world. The weight of this book distinctly rests in it's culmunative powers. These poems tell a story, and the story becomes more urgent and heavy with primitive truth with each passing poem. The strength of this poet, as I see it, is not in her metaphor or fancy foot-working of words, not in her form, but in the sparse beauty and illumination of what she is able to convey. Her experience of life is truly profound and filled with dread and awe, and not only could I entirely relate to that, I found it extremely comforting. To have someone acknowledge the truth- especially when a talented artist does so- is anchoring, even when that truth is about our suffering and confusion. If we acknowledge, we can begin to look further, and that is what these poems do. Highly recommended, one of the best books of poems I've read in a long while.


The ending of this poem is the perfect example of that uplifting recognition. I have experienced this exactly, and to have someone beautifully and perfectly convey the experience is amazing.


What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil
probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty
dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we
spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight
pours through

the open living room windows because the heat's on too high in here,
and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street
the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying
along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my
wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush:
This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called
that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter
to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss -- we want more and more
and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in
the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a
cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm
speechless:
I am living, I remember you.

-marie howe
Carolina Maine said...

Thank you for this poem. It reminds me of a poem that I wrote for my cousin who died too early in life--gave up. This made my day.
Thanks.

michellewoo said...

Love this poem about being in the moment.

P.S. LOVE your kids' names.

Valerie Loveland said...

I have this book but haven't read it yet. I'm moving it up to the front of my to-read list.

dick said...

So refreshing - an account of prosaic daily experience illuminated in the form of an authentic poem. None of the up-its-own-ass phony surreal or it's-really-prose-but-I'll-call-it-a-poem crap that passes for verse in so many online mags. Just the real thing. Thanks for this.

Emily Benton said...

part of me is kicking myself for turning down going to school where she teaches (see my other blog - realitywrites.wordpress.com). at the very least, i still need to get that book.

Montgomery Maxton said...

A-MAZ-ING [grace]

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