Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 6, 2013

On Poetry: Something startling on porch

Local columnist

---- — Here came my uncle with this puffball that took two hands to carry — not because of its weight, of course, since they’re mushrooms, but because it was almost as big as a basketball. When something startling arrives on my doorstep, there’s a strong likelihood it will eventually show up in a poem.

There was no connection between the puffball and my uncle’s heart attack. In my mind, though, I was seeing his lifelong passion for caring for the environment—he’s a retired hydro-geologist—and I was remembering his heart attack, which felt to me as if it must have been triggered at least a bit by his frustration and probably rage at people’s refusal to look at the truth of what fracking can do to our waters.

So I made connections. Correction: I let my mind wander into its own connections, image by image. There he was, carrying the puffball, there he was at the meeting (I didn’t see this, just imagined it), and there he was, stopping on the way home, in pain, and there he was, almost dying on his own front porch. I saw those things in my mind, but they appeared to me all in the light of the pure joy in his eyes when he came to show us the puffball. His pure joy in nature and what it can do.

I didn’t know that’s what I was writing toward. There was no clear direction until I saw that the joy was far more to the poem than the trouble in it. Things can still start over. The puffball only lasts a little while, but its kin can come back another year.

One time when I was bemoaning the destruction to the lakes, my uncle, who is generally the one bringing the bad news about that, said, “Nothing lasts forever, even the lakes.” Things continually start over.

So I found that I was writing a poem that is almost an elegy, but then struggles toward another day.

I listened to my own poem. I heard a slightly oracular tone, elevated, almost the tone of a preacher, although there’s nothing preaching in the poem. Many lines have chiming sounds within them (lean-leaving, fantastical-favor), a bit like a chant. I think that happened because of the high seriousness of the subject in my mind, and yet something like a triumphant quality. Somehow, the universe will persevere.

This poem is from my new book, “No Need of Sympathy,” from BOA Editions, just released this month.

Fleda Brown of Traverse City is professor emerita, University of Delaware, and past poet laureate of Delaware. For more of her work, and to see her website, go to