The Field Speaks of its Persistence

I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
—Wallace Stevens


you drive through me your windows open radio on
the horses along the fence watch you
and the grasslands east and west

early morning light’s playing with matter

electrons bound off the metal hood of the car atoms
entangle superconduct flux the order of the day
on the ridge a poplar strips its branches down to

the velvet of antlers its trunk a pivot black hinge

black bird that swims out of itself and back in so close
to your windshield you’re forced to slow down tune-out
your radio pull-over shaking lean

on a fence post where the horses’ great heads hang deep

in thought memories of leather traces eased furrowed fields
salt-licks as a mare looks up meets your eye
it lasts just a second

that glimpse of how light slows

the mare’s memories quickening now through your brain
all of your feet heavy as stone
having passed through walls skin your elation

will turn to confusion how you’ll know when

it happens again but for now
it’s bliss all along
you’ve belonged here

across the fence the car idles
its radio kicking in
and out

Questions and Answers

Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?

I don’t remember a specific moment that inspired me to write poetry, but I do find inspiration all around me—for example, in the books I read, especially poetry, but also memoirs and topical nonfiction, as well as novels and a daily newspaper. I visit art galleries on a regular basis because looking at art is a great way to access the receptive mood that is the bread and butter of a working poet. Wilderness or even a walk along a treed street or by the ocean promotes the same mind state for me.

How/where do you find inspiration today?

These days as soon as I get out of bed in the morning I write down a dream if I can remember one, then I spend at least a half-hour reading someone else’s poetry. Sometimes this is enough to elicit a poem in my own voice, about a domestic moment perhaps, small in scope, sometimes using the plot line suggested by a dream, or sometimes I examine a line of thinking for a more philosophical or investigative kind of poem. Whatever it is, I don’t argue with the Muse—I’ll take anything that shows up! I keep my expectations low and maintain that morning habit, not comparing myself to any other poet I’ve been reading, but letting my mind and feelings move freely, not rewriting anything at first, just trying to attend and keep the flow going.

How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?

Working from suggestions offered by the poet and editor, Harold Rhenisch, my final revisions had to do with regularizing the length of the stanzas; in this case alternating between a one-line and a three-line stanza. This regularizing isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it effectively created an architecture for the poem, giving the reader a pattern through which to proceed.
Then there was a question of the most effective line breaks. Some were working well but others not so much. Again following a suggestion of Harold’s, I looked for an energetic principle to guide the tempo. I’d been overly influenced by the notion that a poet’s breath determines the length of a line, so I was excited to find that the phrases I’d written, “atoms entangle,” “superconduct flux,” and “the order of the day” offered a guide for how to break lines and create an effective rhythm and pace. Those phrases now read “atoms/entangle superconduct flux the order of the day” and I hope you can feel that jerky, jammed-together, “entangled” tempo I was going for. To my mind this sort of mimics the situation of atoms that, according to quantum field theory, invariably affect one other if they’ve interacted at all, regardless of how far apart they are. Einstein called this “spooky action at a distance,” but by now you’ve probably guessed that the possibilities raised by my encounter with that horse invisibly, spookily affecting me “from a distance” not only incited the whole poem but kept it intriguing enough for me to persist with it until I found both the right words and the right form.

This poem “The Field Speaks of its Persistence” originally appeared in Radio, Film, and Fiction. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 225 (Summer 2015): 64-65.

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