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National Poetry Month, 2014, Pacific Northwest poet, Carolyn Kizer

Deer Trail
Catherine Al-Meten

Pacific Northwest poet, Carolyn Kizer, was born in Spokane, Washington in 1925. She shares the same birthday as poet, Emily Dickinson. She once said in an interview for the Paris Review, that her poetry is really about “how people rub against one another and alter one another” (Paris Review, Spring 2000 No. 14)

Kizer has written eight books of poetry, and she won the Pullitzer Prize for her poetry collection, Mermaids in the Basement. Here are several poems that reflect Carolyn Kizer’s Pacific Northwest roots.

The Great Blue Heron
M.A.K., September 1880-September 1955

As I wandered on the beach

I saw the heron standing

Sunk in the tattered wings

He wore as a hunchback’s coat.

Shadow without a shadow,

Hung on invisible wires

From the top of a canvas day,

What scissors cut him out?

Superimposed on a poster

Of summer by the strand

Of a long-decayed resort,

Poised in the dusty light

Some fifteen summers ago;

I wondered, an empty child,

“Heron, whose ghost are you?”
I stood on the beach alone,

In the sudden chill of the burned.

My thought raced up the path.

Pursuing it, I ran

To my mother in the house

And led her to the scene.

The spectral bird was gone.

But her quick eye saw him drifting

Over the highest pines

On vast, unmoving wings.

Could they be those ashen things,

So grounded, unwieldy, ragged,

A pair of broken arms

That were not made for flight?

In the middle of my loss
I realized she knew:

My mother knew what he was.
O great blue heron, now

That the summer house has burned

So many rockets ago,

So many smokes and fires

And beach-lights and water-glow

Reflecting pinwheel and flare:

The old logs hauled away,

The pines and driftwood cleared

From that bare strip of shore

Where dozens of children play;

Now there is only you

Heavy upon my eye.

Why have you followed me here,

Heavy and far away?

You have stood there patiently

For fifteen summers and snows,

Denser than my repose,

Bleaker than any dream,

Waiting upon the day

When, like gray smoke, a vapor

Floating into the sky,

A handful of paper ashes,

My mother would drift away.

“A Poet’s Household”

The stout poet tiptoes

On the lawn.

Surprisingly limber
In his thick sweater

Like a middle-age burglar.
Is the young robin injured?

She bends to feed the geese

Revealing the neck’s white curve

Below her curled hair.

Her husband seems not to watch,

But she shimmers in his poem.

A hush is on the house,

The only noise, a fern,

Rustling in a vase.

On the porch, the fierce poet

Is chanting words to himself.

Listen to the recitation of five of Carolyn Kizer's poems.

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