Three Poems About Things
When we think about things these days we can’t help but think of Marie Kondo and her KonMari method. But who can forget Neruda’s beautiful Odes to Common Things? I remember first coming upon Francis Ponge’s Things or Taking the Side of Things. Also lately, Partisan of Things. That someone could write like this was so astounding to me, and about such lovely simple everyday things.
So today, I’m sharing 3 poems that are about things. The first, by Lisel Mueller, gets at how we reimagine the world of things in our own image. It’s easy to see faces in things, isn’t it? The second poem by Donald Hall reminds me of our dog Ace’s duck toy, now tucked away in the closet. He’s been gone for a year and a half now. The last poem, by Charles Simic, talks of the secret history of things, and pledges to be their humble scribe.
As someone who is interested in still life, the history and secrets and stories of things are of great interest to me. The way things speak, silent and still, persistent and bittersweet, powerful and cold, holds my attention. I like rocks and odd china ornaments and chipped cups and smooth bowls. I like pearl earrings and old weathered chairs and water pitchers. I like flowers and green bottles and books. I like things. I like listening to things.
by Lisel Mueller
What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.
We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,
and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.
Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.
by Donald Hall
When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I've cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother's rocker,
a dead dog's toy—valueless, unforgettable
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.
by Charles Simic
Of the light in my room:
Its mood swings,
Spider on the wall,
Lamp burning late,
Shoes left by the bed,
I'm your humble scribe.
Dust balls, simple souls
Conferring in the corner.
The pearl earring she lost,
Still to be found.
Silence of falling snow,
Night vanishing without trace,
Only to return.
I'm your humble scribe.