Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2019  Vol. 18 No. 1
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Silence of the Moonbugs

I look out my Salt Lake City apartment: it’s snowing. The flakes falling softly. A muffled lullaby. Almost a sacred hush. Dust of the moonbug wings, Ama used to call the snowflakes, when we were still living in a village in Nepal. A squirrel tightrope-walks the power line. Soon, my car will disappear in the parking lot. This is how a poem often begins for me: by watching and listening. “Poetry always begins and ends,” I once heard Merwin say, “with listening.” I find it to be truer with every next poem I write. I listen to the rain on the roof, the moon on the sycamore branches, the arrowhead of the Canada geese above Liberty Park, Ama’s anecdotes about her life and the rural world before I was born. Through research, imagination, and empathy, I try to bear as much witness to what is not around me as to what is. I collect what I see and hear in my journal, without any particular organizing principle or expecting them to be anything more than notes to myself. Sometimes, though, an image, a phrase, a sound, or a story makes me pause and demands that I really look at it—and a poem begins.

But how a poem happens is largely a mystery to me—and I like it this way, for I love standing in the field of unknowing, submerging in a dreamfield where the lyric and imagery become more urgent than logic. Only when what’s on the page starts speaking to me do I know I’ve found something worth pursuing. Most of the time I don’t know what exactly it is saying, except that I feel it—in that way it’s more visceral and mystical than intellectual. At this moment, the art of listening becomes even more crucial: listening to what the poem wants to say, what it wants to be—as opposed to what I want to say or what I wish it to be. Once I’ve a decent draft, I read it aloud, paying careful attention to the sound in the ear, the texture in the mouth, and the breath in the body, which helps me with lineation, cadence, and caesuras. I read the poem aloud, and silently, over and over again until all the noise disappears and a silence descends upon it—the silence with which the poem could transcend language and become a prayer, the silence in which we might hear each other’s hearts, the silence into which the moonbugs gather on the hawthorn branches.  

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