Why we write poems

Finding the words for what moves us

I’m not sure how many of these annual poetry issues the CN&R has done so far. Quite a few, I reckon. I could go back and count them, I suppose, but the number doesn’t really matter. What I do know is that the quality of the poems keeps getting better. Many of the ones in this issue would be publishable in poetry journals, I believe.

My thanks to Joanne Allred for serving as the contest judge. She’s a masterful poet in her own right, so the winners can be confident they deserve the honor.

In the spirit of Poetry 99, which invites the participation of all poets, including middling ones like me, here’s a poem I wrote while at a meditation retreat a few years back. The stillness of a retreat center is as good for writing poems as for meditation, since both involve looking deeply inward to capture the images and emotions of the moment.

Part of the reason I’m offering this is because my family lost someone we loved deeply this week. His death was unexpected and came as a great shock. We’ve been swimming in sadness ever since. This poem reminds me of the joy I know is just on the other side of that sadness.

The cucumber slice stares back at me,
starburst mandala of seeds and flesh.
I fork it slowly into my mouth,
Aware of arm, muscle, movement,
the glint of sunlight on the fruit,
then its coolness on my tongue.

I think of cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches
eaten on creekside summer picnics,
of countless salads punctuated by cucumber chunks.

How little respect I’ve shown this humble food.
How rarely I’ve seen what it really is,
This smooth green tube of encased coolness:
my body, my arm lifting the fork,
my heart loving this life,
that very love

The view from here: I’m writing this on Saturday, and from my window I can see the Occupy Chico demonstrators walking around the farmers’ market, many carrying signs. There must be 200 of them. It’s a colorful, diverse group. They seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s a pretty day, a good day for protesting Chico style, for democracy in action. I hope they keep it up.