Stepping Out (A Well-Made Thing)

pumper 2


Stepping Out

and inside the mask
a faint whiff of grease
from this morning’s eggs

stepping out, he finds
the outdoors secure,
still, in its greatness
the sea still open
the sky limitless
the sky, the limit
the sky, off limits.

Brendan’s post over at earthweal (  ) asks us to write about “the intersection of culture and nature”. He asks:

How do you see yourself as a poet of culture and nature?”

Well, I have never considered myself a poet of nature. I have to come at it sideways. Here is a poem about the intersection of pop culture and nature.

Jerry Seinfeld takes a walk in the park and writes a haiku
Why, when dogs chase birds,
do we see optimism
not futility.

Brendan asks:

“If your life’s work were assembled in one silo, who would it feed?”

Well, I think my life’s work so far, could probably be served as a light snack and I’m happy with that. I am not particularly ambitious. Stephen Hawkins wrote “The Theory of Everything”. I would be happy writing “The Theory of a Few Things”. I read an interview with Leonard Cohen in which he spoke of tending to his garden. He implied modestly that his garden was small but that he took good care of it. He was talking of course of his particular talent and, I think, of how one should take care of what one is good at, know your talent (big or small, major or minor) and cultivate it.

Brendan asks “What is a well-made thing?”

(You really should read Brendan’s post, he poses a lot of questions, and is, as always informative and erudite)

When I first started writing poetry, I wrote mostly free verse. Then when I started blogging, I became more aware of short verse forms, in particular, the haiku and the tanka. I see poetry as being similar to sculpture or wood carving, whereas novel writing is more like architecture. The poet takes a large slab of words or a tree stump of words and whittles it down to a small well-made thing. When writing short poems I find a form is useful. I can’t really write traditional haiku. I can’t summon the required ineffability and the results end up po-faced, self-conscious, weighed down by solemnity. But I do like the arbitrary restriction or the discipline, for example, all the lines in the first poem above contain 5 syllables. I read a book of poems recently by Paula Meehan, the Irish Poet, in which every poem contains nine lines and every line contains nine syllables and amazingly she does this without making it obvious (the name of the book is “Geomantic”). Anyway, here is one more attempt at a well-made thing, and yes, nature is involved.

One Swallow

one swallow does not
one tries to swallow one’s pride
one swallow does not

when it comes to (what else?) Spring
one swallow does not do it.

6 thoughts on “Stepping Out (A Well-Made Thing)

  1. earthweal

    Thanks Jim — When I write these prompts, I sometimes make a list of suggested ways to approach the theme, questions for an individual response quest. No one has attempted to go through the list as you have here, and its wonderful to hear the whole album (breviary, bestiary) of responses here. An amiable plate for sure, plenty nourishing with some piquant flavors (egg grease through a mask). And one swallow certainly isn’t enough … I’m not a deep nature guy either, raised and lived on in one salient of suburbia or another, it’s hard to get out of my concrete and formica skull … But I remember Jung once saying human nature is of course a product of nature, so even my suburban tropes swing from some inner tree. I’ll keep trying. Thanks for your doing so too! – Brendan


  2. Sherry Marr

    Jim, I so enjoyed this posts, your poems and reflections. Sorry to be slow in visiting, i sort of crashed yesterday. I especially love your Jerry Seinfield haiku. Seeing optimism instead of futility is key to making our way through, i think. So glad you hang in at earthweal.


  3. lindi

    An intriguing read from beginning to end. My mother made my cotton mask – it smells ever so vaguely of her house and the soup she makes no matter how many times i wash and douse it in essential oils….so i hear you on the whiff of grease.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Suzanne

    I really enjoyed this post. Your thoughts on haiku are interesting. I prefer writing haiku to any other poetry but since discovering Brendan’s challenges on Earthweal I have gone back to writing free verse. As you indicate his prompts are so complex it’s hard to respond in just a three line haiku.

    Liked by 1 person


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