Molly Fisk: Proximity and Distance

This week I’ve been thinking about proximity and distance. When you’re a poet you get to do this sort of thing and actually admit it to people — thinking is part of your job description, and the odder the subject matter, the better. You don’t always have to think in pairs or opposites — last week, for instance, I thought about growth and paid no attention whatsoever to decay.

Maybe some poets can think endlessly about abstractions, but I’m nothing if not literal. My poems are anchored to the real world as by an anvil: they do not float off into theoretical territory. So when I’m thinking about proximity, my brain immediately looks for a concrete example. Like the kitten climbing up my nightgown at this very moment, swaying slightly on her own weight, and now high enough to have scared herself into some pitiful mewing. Her mother is suddenly right beside us, wondering what kind of harm I’m causing. The other three kittens are having a wrestling match on the bathroom scale.

These baby felines are a month old. I didn’t see the birth because I was out to dinner, but I came home only minutes later — they were still damp and sort of grub-like. I’ve watched and stroked them every day since, and am as close to them as I am to anyone else in my life.

The kits still live in the bathroom, even though they’ve figured out how to climb over the barricade of window screens I constructed to keep them in. So far they’ve never braved the kitchen tile to explore the corner where my home office is. It’s when I’m over here that I think about distance. One of the things I do for a living is teach poetry classes on the internet. People all over the world have written with me in the fifteen years I’ve been doing this: from Cyprus, Guam, Lisbon, London, northern Sweden and the South Pole. I’m currently running a Poetry Boot Camp that includes two poets in South Korea. They’re both Americans teaching there and they don’t know each other. They found me by surfing the web.

A lot can be said about the demise of civilization due to computer use, but this miracle of contact is one of the things I love about our modern age. The Internet reminds me of a fishing expedition. You cast in your baited hook, which in my case is an erratically-updated website, leave your pole wedged between rocks on the bank and go eat lunch with your friends. When you come back, if you’re lucky, there’s a lovely trout tugging at your line, and you reel it in. If you’re really lucky, the trout has already made a PayPal deposit for your poetry class.

Why two separate English teachers working in South Korea would find my website and sign up for the same session, I cannot fathom. Coincidentally, I have two friends teaching English in Seoul this spring, a pair of brothers, but none of these people know each other. No one from Korea has ever taken my Boot Camp before. It’s just a mystery.

Kind of like the mystery of white stripes appearing after a week on one of the gray kittens. One day there they were, all over her stomach and back legs, and the insides of her ears had turned white, too. She went from a fuzzy gray lump to an elegant lioness overnight. If I hadn’t been keeping such a close eye on them all, I never would have believed it.

I haven’t come to any conclusions about proximity and distance. I’m not sure there are any to draw. I’m just trying to learn to sit with paradox and not go completely insane.



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