Friday, August 24, 2018

"Gnats in Love" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

Gnats in Love
Lowell Jaeger

"Silhouette" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Late evening and we’re winding our way,
my wife and I, up the path from the lake.
Is that fog? My wife asks, pointing at our home
on the hillside above us.  Both of us blink
and stare.  Can’t be, I say.  Not the season.

Still, an eerie haze has inexplicably descended,
enshrouding the entire structure, reducing
roof and windows and doors to a single gauze
apparition, alive in slant sunlight, roiling with incandescent
neon blues and greens as if boiled

from a cauldron. My wife takes my hand,
edges closer, and we stand uncertain, more
awestruck than afraid. It’s something
frightfully beautiful, other-worldly, strange.  It’s moving, 
slowly, south along the lakeshore, till it’s gone.

In its wake, billions of bodies, each no bigger
than a speck, piles of them — spent bugs — fallen in drifts
around the foundation, peppered across our windowsills.
Well, now we’re abuzz with an appreciation for small things.

We fetch a magnifying glass and whisper, push our noses
closer.  The tiny wings quiver when we breathe nearby.

Poet’s Notes:  “In a dark time,” wrote Theodore Roethke, “the eye begins to see.” He also wrote the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful lines I know: “Snail, snail, glister me forward, / Bird, soft-sigh me home, / Worm, be with me. / This is my hard time.” (see Editor's Note).  When he was low, he turned to nature for solace.  And he turned there for wisdom.  

Roethke in many ways saw the world through the eyes of a child, as many artists do.  Children are curious about bugs and birds and frogs and fish.  Children remember to look up and watch how the sky changes.  Children are in tune with the strange murmuring-everlasting conversation of the stars.  Aren’t we truly cousins to all squawking, crawling, leaping, tunneling, feeding creatures great and small?

When we die, our lives “flash” before our eyes.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s sure what many people say. Difficult for me to imagine that my entire life — down to the pettiest detail, like what I had for breakfast on an obscure morning umpteen years ago — is worth re-viewing on my way into the great beyond.  Rather, I’d bet we see a slideshow of particular moments that moved us, shaped us, in some lasting way.  Or maybe we page through a big leather album of mental snapshots. Many of my poems are mental snapshots. Ponder this: Why do some memories lodge deep within and never leave while so many rush past us and never look back?

The first time I ever passed through Yellowstone National Park was sort of by accident; I was hitchhiking west, riding that day with a middle-aged philosophy professor, a man I’d just met and admired more and more as he confided in me the farthest reaches of his heart.  (People picked up hitchhikers and did that back then.)  He was on his way to a new teaching job and new digs. Seemed to me his life was perfect.  He was scholarly and curious and making his own way.

I have an indelible imprint of this man in my mind, the moment we stood before a wide vista of wildflowers and tall yellow prairies rising toward forested foothills and snowcapped rocky summits beyond.  “If only I had someone to share this with,” he said.  So . . . his life wasn’t perfect after all.  As I’m spitting out my last sighing breath, this is one of the memories I’ll want to be included in my inventory of influences. This was the moment I realized that we all need someone and that whatever is great and beautiful to us is somehow diminished if it can’t be shared.

“Gnats in Love” is a love poem.  My wife and I are sharing a moment of wonder while witnessing a swarm of mating bugs.  We are awed at life’s fecundity.  Roethke would understand.  So would a child.

Editor’s Note:  The lines by Roethke quoted by Lowell are taken from his poem "The Lost Son"

“Gnats in Love” was first published in Joy Anthology.

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