Thursday, August 2, 2018

"listening" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

"Pebble" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Lowell Jaeger

a pebble caught in my shoe 
troubles my progress
halts me on a precipice 
along a well-worn path overlooking the surf

i sit in tall grass
undo laces
lift the pebble
between my thumb and forefinger

ask what it has to say
solitary inaudible squeak
lost in the grand mashing
of tides pounding the shoreline

and did i mention 
today is my sixtieth birthday
threescore orbits
on a big rock in the black empty

well not such a big rock really
a pebble
in comparison to our daystar 
even less to larger lights in the night sky

i pocket this quiet stone home
and sit with it in my palm late tonight
to the winds pummeling the dunes
and the relentless ocean grinding

Poet's Notes:  I was born and raised in the Midwest and never saw the ocean until I was out of high school.  I still stand in awe and wonder whenever I’ve stopped to hear the surf pounding.  Something—the rhythm of the waves, the relentless crashing roar, the far-off horizon—transports my thoughts to that high place where the best poems come from, those rare moments of insightful transcendence where a man can glimpse his own small and mysterious place amidst the greatness and grandeur of creation.

For many years I taught writing workshops at Coos Bay, Oregon, and I fell in love with Oregon’s rocky, time-sculpted coastline.  Between classes, I’d climb trails along the dunes and up into the high bluffs overlooking the vast grey-blue. One day I caught a pebble inside my shoe.  Or did the pebble catch me?  There’s a lesson in every small thing.

In “The Summer Day”, Mary Oliver says, “I don’t know, exactly, what a prayer is.  /  I do know how to pay attention . . . .”   My poem “listening” is a sort of prayer on my 60th birthday, but moreover, it’s a poem that pays attention to the little things, small voices which are often the echoes of larger implications.

Editor's Note:  "listening" first appeared in Driving the Back Road Home.

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