Poetry

Poetry Sunday: ‘Earth and Sky,’ by Catherine Staples

 

Earth and Sky

After a blizzard like this—how bright
blinding white are open fields and pastures,
like walking into a future untranslated—
just the faintest rill on surface under which
a tractor rut rides. Draped lines of a covert
where once an owl blew by on smock-white wings
so close and silent we watched him rise
in a slow rowing motion, air thick
as the stupor that held him, dreaming still,
but functioning in the instant. Blown sweeps
deepen in hollows, far as the eye can see—
an unbroken shimmer. We squint hard
into dizzying white, the swing of small hills,
but these ponies know the way back surely as the spill
of carrot and sweet feed drumming a bucket.
They improvise a leaping, high stride to carry
us home, vaulting each dare-me-die glitter
of snow melt and bare earth as if it were a hidden river,
the glimmering dark Styx itself and her greedy
boatman all too ready to steal us from this beauty—
gap in the path, fissure in the squall,
earth and sky mixing,
and an open gate swinging noiselessly, swinging
on its hinges.

 

From The Rattling Window (Ashland Poetry Press 2013), reprinted with permission of the press. Author Photo Attribution: Ed Wheeler. Order this book at ashlandpoetrypress.com or at Amazon.

 

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Catherine Staples author photo_1-28-16Catherine Staples is the author of The Rattling Window (Ashland Poetry Press 2013), winner of the McGovern Prize and Never a Note Forfeit (Seven Kitchens Press 2011). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, The Michigan Quarterly Review, and others. Honors include a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, the Southern Poetry Review’s Guy Owen Prize, and New England Poetry Club’s Boyle/Farber Award. She grew up in Dover, MA, spending summers in Virginia and on Cape Cod. She teaches in the English and Honors programs at Villanova University and lives with her family in Devon, Pennsylvania. For more information, visit www.catherinestaples.com

 

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Notes on “Earth and Sky

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

When the reports of the January 2016 blizzard started coming in, I felt my usual gratitude for the mild winters in Northern California where I now live, mixed with longing for the drama and beauty of the winters in the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania where I spent my childhood. Our snow there was measured in feet, the kind that buried cars and transformed our sooty railroading and factory town and surrounding fields into a silent, pristine landscape of almost indescribable beauty. I say “almost,” because this week’s featured poet, Catherine Staples, manages to capture that landscape just as I remember it in this week’s poem.

The images in “Earth and Sky” are rendered with skill, precision, and imagination. The word “white” appears three times, as “blinding white” (line 2), “smock-white wings” (6), and “dizzying white” (13), and the play of light on the snow’s surface is described at least four times, using adjectives derived from verbs (“blinding,” “shimmer,” “glitter,” and “glimmering”) so what we see is not just a static postcard but something alive as the world and just as subject to continuous shift and change. All the descriptions are spot-on, but my favorite is the subtle “just the faintest rill on the surface under which/a tractor rut rides.” Yes, readers, that is exactly what it looks like when snow covers a rutted track. Note how the line break supports the image, placing the barely-seen thing (the tractor rut) literally underneath the line that describes the snow that covers it, and also how the alliteration in “rut rides” sonically supports the image of a subtle but unmistakably continuous line or ridge.

In what could be seen as an enactment of the poem’s title, the concrete images of snowed-over “fields and pastures” evolve into the lovely abstraction of “a future untranslated.” The image of the owl rising up “in a slow rowing motion, air thick / as the stupor that held him” is dreamlike, nearly narcotic, in dramatic counterpoint to the pounding-ponies action that culminates in the near-ecstatic “vaulting each dare-me-die glitter”—how I love that phrase! I love, too, the images that close the poem, dark areas of snow melt seen as versions of the River Styx, and an open gate left swinging after we’ve passed through, brought all the way home by the poem’s closing lines. Read More »

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