Monday, July 5, 2010


Between the fourth of July--my favorite holiday--and the eighth--my birthday--is usually the best weather of the entire year. Yesterday it was gloriously hot and sunny; we played our kazoos in the local fourth of July parade and then had a cookout and two croquet games and stayed out blowing our yellow vuvuzela until the neighbors' bedroom windows began to go dark and mosquitoes outnumbered the lightning bugs.

This morning we got out of bed later than the neighbors, who were already out riding their bikes and looking at our chairs and sticky marshmallow-toasting sticks all strewn about, while the garden is green and purple with spots of deep rose.

It's a perfect morning for this poem, Milkweed, by Michael Teig:

I've seen beauty;
It gets up earlier than me
And makes a few decisions,

Bullies the clouds and broken
Buildings into place,
the inky grammar of the birds,

And then it simply
Is landscape, the way
Your friends are, or your face, greeting you

When you take your coat off,
Put it on. I think it says go
Into the yard and I'm in the yard.

Like a broken wheelbarrow
On both elbows,
I watch a spider knit the grass blades,

Shaping its hunger.
When night comes a little wind
Undresses what's left of the trees

And it's easy to forget about
Morning and my companions.
I hope they are sleeping.

If beauty is before us in line,
If it is second-hand, then so be it.
I like the way the neighborhood's

Three-legged dog stumbles into my knee
At four a.m. and pawns its wet breath--
How morning lands hard on the doorstep

And each dawn almost begins
As a surprise, the mail
In the mailbox, the birds in place,

A neighbor I barely know
Stuffing leaves into the leg
Of his scarecrow's trouser.

I love sleeping until I've had enough and then seeing the morning's beauty "second-hand" after others have already seen it. That's my favorite line of the poem.

I find this poem as "accessible" as any by Billy Collins, famed for the accessibility of his poems. In fact, Stephen Dobyns, in his introduction to the volume (Big Back Yard, 2003) says:
"within the mass of contemporary poetry, there are many poets who use one unexpected turn after another and the surprise is meant to be its own payoff. The surprise exists for its own sake and the poems proceed through a series of arresting non-sequiturs. This is boring and intrinsically insulting. Hiding in the dreary background is some would-be poet saying 'Language doesn't really communicate. Authorial intention is a myth of the past. Communication is passe. Accessibility in poetry means failure. Meaning and non-meaning are equal."
But Teig doesn't do this, Dobyns says. He is actually trying to say something to you.

Does any part of this poem speak to you? What does it say?


Jenny said...

I like "the inky grammar of the birds" - I like the whole poem really. It picks the right details.

bermudaonion said...

You were into making noise yesterday between the kazoos and the vuvuzelas! I love the hot weather too - glad to see I'm not the only one.

Harriet M. Welsch said...

Most parts of this poem speaks to me. I love it from the very first stanza and I'm completely unfamiliar with the poet. Thank you!

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

July 8 is my birthday too! The weather here is just a smidge too warm, but otherwise right around now is my favorite time too.

Jodie said...

It has to be the first stanza - I can just imagine someone giving me a litle wink after saying 'it gets up earlier than me', as if to say haven't we all been lazy and hasn't it been lovely. And he's describing such a personal, immediate scene he's really telling you about something as he sees it.

Happy birthday for tomorrow, hope you have just as nice a day as your 4th of July sounded.

Jeanne said...

Jenny, I'm still trying to figure out the line you quote. Crows? "inky?" "Grammar as in "spell"?

Kathy, I'm often into making noise! I am a big, loud person. I have a lapel button that says "I don't have an inside voice."

Harriet, I came across the volume when I was looking for poetry by people who went to Oberlin College.

Kim, do you think that having our birthday this time of year is what makes us like the time of year so much?

Jodie, yes, that's exactly what I like the part about beauty "getting up earlier than me." I also like the way he says "me."

Cschu said...

What a great poem! Thanks, Jeanne.

Valerie said...

I like this part:

"When night comes a little wind
Undresses what's left of the trees"

Happy belated birthday -- I'm behind on visiting blogs -- I hope you had a great day.