Iambic Muck and Shivers

(Becoming a Naturalist, Part 37.)

By Jack Phillips


Early October snow. (Robert Smith.)


Walking wildly in wild places makes fluid the earth and the past makes current, memory and promise together flow and puddle, run over. Bodily we float the weight of our being; this is the faith and physics of the walking tradition but poets today are few. Sweet friend wishing she could make it baked for us instead, apple-butter cardamom cake and medium-roast tarry us by the fire. Another slice, cup, then out, up the snow-on-mud steep bluff.

I am warmed by wool socks to the fireplace writing home-poems or so imagine of friends with us only in verse. North wind blows eagles high drives accipiters low into canopy ricochets, too big for kestrels too small for falcons, too fast for a sybil or muse, oracles left to kerfuffling jays. Last week’s buckeyes, monarchs, nymphalids, pearl crescents having forsaken blue sage and lately snakeweed leave us to wet impulses in bark-barely shadows.

(Today is made hoary before summer has traded jade for amber, butter, and burnt oranges before afternoon is traded for dusk. Juncos are here as always come early; a frog lingers coldly to begrudge the equinox lost. In nature time is beat and not meter; seldom iambic though the poet wishes it so to be.)

What will it take to become a current flowing over, body taking earth lightened by the weight of time? As much as I want to walk barefoot in my boots I make muddy memory on this land as one clumsy and dumb with the sins of my kind. Figments appear on the trail ahead, poets of old earth and time more magic than here and now, so easy to believe they left no scars on the planet only tracelessness. But no.

Nature poets gone before us have muddied and mucked their way into used bookstores. Much less than to make a footprint where we don’t belong does it take a poem to make, nothing more than clear exuberance of wild moments running over, each step flowing into the next on land no more enchanted, no less than it ever has been. Or holy.

And the words of my companions more vital, alive than those words unshelved and liberated only by virtue of our woodsy satchels. Bashō on the open page Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau weep and run under soggy snowdrops. Maybe in their day they didn’t mind so much wet feet. Maybe they moved as one with cosmos gliding deer-like over trackless terrain, memory melting into moment, right-foot, left. Maybe perfect poems crystalized instantly on sybilline lips. Maybe friends baked for them cardamom cakes. Probably not.

The book-weight we carry can lighten us when we pause to read a favorite but the load of our longing belongs each to us only. Raw earth alone can free us. Nature is absolute freedom and wildness said Thoreau and so on and so forth said he. But I will keep him in my pack for now as right as he may be along with others in pages bound, zippered in. Even Oliver!

In this moment in muscle and blood-rush shivers, earth-beats in living skin matter most. We go lightly in love with silence but a silence never requiting; the woods here and prairie, river bubble voices of a thousand beings as free as we might be freed, to quiet mouths, minds, feet speak freely. Come what may muddy is later shared boots by the door feet to the fire, cardamom cake still some left fresh pot of coffee on, and poems of our own composing.