by Elizabeth Southwood (c) June 1998
Some poems flow,
know where to go,
while some stagnate
in a kind of swamp
like a back-of-the-stove pot of simmering stock,
which contains fowl feet and turnip tops,
and ends up
in a compost heap, or in the
case of a poem, a shredder.
These poems founder when
a persnickety muse asks
I. Q. test type questions,
such as "Tell me where
these phrases of yours are going: A barefoot
girl in a pollen-yellow silk shawl
holding a baby, a lamplit window in a
basement apartment, fog drifting through
blooming acacias in late January."
Exposing a poem to
comments from critical muses,
a variation of a town meeting,
after hair-tearing frustration,
cleans up the hodgepodge that is
the "stock" or "swamp" poem's
given. A hidden thread
will finally be seen
on which can be strung
the beads of the poem
to keep track of where
it has been and is going. You are led
to a kind of found golden stone Corinthian
column, which crossed the sea as ballast
and was dumped in a swamp, not far from
a dented, mudpacked soup pot, which,
now repaired and polished
is transformed into a thick, shining copper.
When good earth and ivy are put in the pot,
and it's placed on top of a section of column.
it becomes a miniature garden.
On balmy, jasmine-scented summer nights on the patio,
the hanging ivy jiggles gently as it dangles over
the curved sides of the shadowy column
and gleams like the copper
in the glow of butterscotch lights,
The instant poem is mystifying
and sometimes gratifying, but so
is the one that's a tangle and the
cat's got your tongue
and your head aches,
and the whole thing's a mistake
and your missing muse is having fun.
But then it falls into place
and it's done.