A POETIC MEMORY
We are familiar with psychics who read palms and tarot cards to predict the future. Poets read nature where an abundance of life cycles and hints of the past and future are found. On his wintry morning walk Kirston Koths finds a treasury of signs that tell a tale of recent activity.
Passage through the woodland
is remembered by the snow, the gentle kind
that falls like sifted flour
and allows no secret trespass.
Where ruffled grouse have gone,
there’s story in their trident stride
through grasses bent with seed,
tracing circles in the snow.
The seated fox leaves a melted round
that held sly patience in the dusk,
as henhouse chickens entered sleep,
heads tempting like warm biscuits.
The flap of owl wingtips
frames a furrow in the white,
quotation marks around
the muffled cry of mouse.
My footprints, much the coarser,
needing less than stealth,
track my morning progress
through the wintry pages.
Hurry now. The frozen record fades,
soft and wider in the bright of day.
All too soon
no one else can know.
Author’s note: At my home in the East Bay, I host annual poetry readings in the garden each spring. I am also a founding member of Poets Across the Bay, a poetry workshop for local poets, and a submissions reader for Blue Light Press, a poetry publication based in San Francisco.
I have a Ph.D. from Harvard in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and being recently retired from a career in biotechnology, have re-invigorated my life-long interest in poetry. I lived briefly in Amherst, MA, and I distinctly recall having heard Robert Frost recite his poetry at The University of Massachusetts when I was in seventh grade. He didn’t read his poems, he said, “Now, I would like to SAY you a poem.” From memory. The above poem is based on my childhood in Connecticut, and it clearly was influenced by the style of the premier New England poetic voice of the period. (See Frost’s classic “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”). All that is described in this poem really happened, and I recall it as if it were yesterday. It has recently been published by California Quarterly.
Editor’s note: Through the use of specific images Kirston Koths shows us how he can tell what had been taking place on a field of snow, before he arrived on his morning walk. He introduces the theme of reading signs – not by saying the snow is soft enough to leave imprints, but by his allusion to the ‘softness of sifted flour’ which points to the fact that any activity is recorded, ‘remembered by the snow’. No one or no thing can pass through without leaving its mark. (no secret passage). Through the ‘grasses bent with seed’ and the trident shaped footprints circling them he can tell a grouse has recently been foraging for food. The same is true of the fox’s rounded hole left behind as he waited for darkness and the hens to go to sleep so he could capture one for a treat – delightfully expressed by the term ‘warm biscuits.’ Marks that look like the flapping wings of an owl make him hear the ‘muffled cry of a mouse.’ His heavy footprints show that whoever passed left a harmless clue, (recording less than stealth). Throughout he has made use of the senses: sight – footprints, sound – muffled cry, taste – biscuit, touch – soft as sifted snow. His call to hurry before the signs are melted by the sun, tells us the experience is something to cherish – enough to write a poem about and share with others.
“Composition is a discipline; it forces us to think. If you want to ‘get in touch with your feelings,’ fine — talk to yourself; we all do. But, if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts. Put them in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce. The secret way to do this is to write it down and then cut out the confusing parts.”—William Safire