My phone rang three weeks ago, and I was informed that I’d been nominated to serve as the next Poet Laureate of Florida, where I live with my wife and son. When I hung up, I turned and glanced, for a passing moment, at the twelve year old who was afraid to show his father his first work. It was startling to have created a poem and I was too shy to give it to him; I left it on the table in the kitchen where he and my mother had coffee:
I think when God
walked shy to Moses,
stars clustered in his hands,
he led our rabbi down
to the orchards of the heart.
The two walked near the other
and traded dreams like brothers
before sleep. They paused
afield and watched the sun,
lifted by themselves in unison,
race overhead. And Moses knew
not to disappoint this man
with faltering steps or speech.
God wept uncomprehending
of his artistry and Moses scratched
some lines in stone to honor
a beloved friend.
I was very fortunate; my father was a Rhodes Scholar, deeply read and aware that I was producing something at will that could not be discouraged. He was one of those parents who never spoke down to his children and he purchased me copies of Shakespeare, Ezra Pound and Dylan Thomas. I read the sonnets, my hands feeling along the seams. I found that Shakespeare paused at about the three quarter mark for breath. Then, his genius would roar down the last furlong of the race. This, I later learned, is common to all poem makers, and I read the Cantos very young also, and with that perception we have as children and lose as adults, I gained valuable knowledge of structure and the references to the works of classic poets who had laid the flooring of Western poetry upon which all following verse would stand.
I will not waiver or protest
that the wait is hard to bear;
The parent-to-be is patient
for the child he cannot see, knowing
that eternity is rounding unknown
seas to fishing nets. My
beloved, I wait. I stand upon
the beach, my arms are wide, you
must swim to the sound of me
and lights undreamed. We shall be
coins of sides alike and sleep together
in the shade. You are the growing
length of me that lays
upon a floor of leaves
and says, there is no end to light
or closing of the day. There are only
clarions that pierce the dark
with mirror songs like these.
And here is what I have learned of poetry in the years between the first and second poem: they are not our possession. When I first wrote a poem, I knew nothing; it was creative spark. It came from my unconscious, where all art lives, like wind. The poet is the most privileged of souls; he or she is able to roam its landscape, witness the crack of lightning and hear the rustle of some force that has haunted the scene before. Perhaps it is the specters of other poets, perhaps more. But when the poet is done at his work, evidence is there on the page that we are more than brain chemistry, and closer to the incomprehensible than we know.
Charles Bane, Jr is the author of The Chapbook (Curbside Splendor, 2011) and Love Poems (Aldrich Press, 2014). The Huffington Post described his work as “not only standing on the shoulders of giants, but shrinking them.” The creator of The Meaning of Poetry series for the Gutenberg Project, he is a current nominee as Poet Laureate of Florida.