Last week we came home from swimming and there was a message on the answering machine. “Hi, Grace,” a cheery voice said. “This is (too blurry to understand) and I have an idea. Give me a call,” and the voice left a number. I was about to play the message again when David came in the room and said, “That was Sharon Olds.”
Sharon Olds is a poet David and I have both greatly admired for years. She’s now a neighbor of mine, living with Carl, a farmer I’ve known for decades (our children went to Temple School together), who owns an old camp on Wild Goose Pond and has turned a few of the cabins into lovely, rural retreats. Carl is deeply involved with land conservation and local implementation of the “land ethic” first described by Aldo Leopold, a pioneer of conservation. David and I have crossed paths with Sharon and Carl numerous times in the last year or more — at poetry readings, at a screening of Green Fire, a movie about Aldo Leopold, at Yom Kippur services — and have talked about getting together.
I called Sharon back. “I have an idea,” Sharon said, and went on to describe her recent week at the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop. The intent is to generate new work using word prompts, and with a guest at one of the Graylag cabins who writes poetry, Sharon wondered if David and I would like to be part of a morning poetry gathering. Oh yes, we certainly would!
Bill, the Graylag guest, his friend Sharon (yes, two Sharons), David, Sharon Olds and I met at 9:00 a.m. in the community cabin at Graylag. Sharon Olds’ deep connection with art and poetry creation was evident. She talked about making space for poetry, about inviting in the spirit of others, such as Aldo Leopold, and then asked us each to contribute two or three words to serve as prompts for our writing. Our words: ruffle, marshy, sun visor, visible, tenuous, waiting, cobble, gibbous, orb, oblong. We then all went outside and picked up an object that spoke to us in some way. When we gathered again in the cabin, we passed our objects to the person on our right. Then we went off for a half hour to write.
We came back a bit later than a half hour and took turns reading our poems. Sharon asked us to “share what is most alive to us,” in each poem. “We’re too new together to offer critiques,” she said. We talked about the poems, about poetry, about the spell we each worked under with an awareness of our chosen woods and objects from the piney woods and pondside. “We are a tribe of five, and this is our language,” Sharon said. Here is the poem I wrote, with no editing yet. Tomorrow, David’s poem.
The fallen branch becomes complex
in her hands, white orbs of fungus
sucking the bark, trapping old brown
ash leaves, the plucked vine of fresh green
shot with white veins passed
to the next person in the circle.
Last night we discussed the origins
of gibbous, loving the moon
for just how it wavered, tenuous
chill coming into the evening,
the corner of another season unmasked,
visible in the one read leaf
I find floating no matter how summer
the day. This wild pond wears
its marshy crown of reeds and lilies
without desire for fealty, tiny wind
ruffles painting the water black
and blue that hurries into each flicker,
the cliché of sparkle. Oblong
passion rests in our words,
the trees and tumble of forest
reminding us that today is today
the unvisored sun before us
as we sit beside each other.