The first few days of this week have felt largely like slogging through horrid damps.  In fact, yesterday, I was caught in a day-long rainstorm in my leather lace-up shoes.  Since I have to walk across campus several times on Wednesdays, my tights and shoes got soaked, over and over, and in my wrath I vowed to buy a pair of galoshes before the day was out so I would never ruin another pair of beloved shoes.  I drove to Wal-Mart (yes….) with white knuckles, screaming at slow drivers and my windshield wipers, and bought a pair of $24 rainboots and a box of Skittles, and ate almost all of the Skittles on the drive home.  I think my teeth were kind of hurting because I chewed them so hard.

If anyone ever wondered what kind of life I lead, this is as good a snapshot as any.

But today—I started this post to write about today’s shift in weather.  It’s snowing, and I feel reborn, like I have another chance to make something (anything) out of this week’s work, this week’s labor, or love.  And I think it has something to do with considering, in a quiet way, my work as a poet.  (Have failed too miserably as a teacher this week to salvage anything, there.)

More than anything, I have wanted to be of some use, in this world.  I’ve been thinking about Mary Oliver, her remarks in the interview for O that Kayla sent me.  She doesn’t seem to have been saddled with such a sense of responsibility to move the world, to possess part of it and heal that part; instead, she seems to believe her poetry’s purpose is to praise, to illumine fine detail, to shift the gaze from the self—even the poem—and allow the world be surprising in all its vastness.

It’s astonishing, because I can’t think of a time when I didn’t feel a longing to make some kind of difference in the world, to be useful, to make some part of it healthier, more beautiful.  To change some part of it, I guess.  Late in the interview, Oliver indicates that her sense of “mission” (my word, not hers) as a poet is changing, slightly, as she approaches eighty: She sees her poetry becoming more open, more personal, more about her own personal healing, when it’s been mostly luminous praise poetry in the past.  So—a poet’s sense of purpose can change, over the years.  That’s comforting to consider.

But I’m still muddled—where am I starting from, as a poet?  Poetry matures slowly, so I still consider myself at the beginning of my work, here, but (as ever) I can’t help comparing myself to other poets I admire.  How should I focus my life?  My poems consistently flow from my life experience (rather than, say, the things I’m studying, or things I’m reading), so should I recreate my life, rent a house in the woods with Marshall, take long walks along creeks?  Should I keep being urban, keep writing about noise pollution, virtual reality, bad-tempered people?  Should I go here, do this?  Go there, do that?  And I’m back to unanswerable questions.

What is the work of a poet?  Likely, as in all other fields of endeavor, each person’s work is different, and can be discovered only by that person.  Well, that’s ok.  As Rilke says, patience is everything, and I feel like adding that observance is also everything.  No use in being patient if you don’t observe closely.  Oh, what’s the Beuchner book?  Listening to Your Life?  I think that’s what I mean, too.

You should see these snowflakes, blowing down and then upward in this Old City corridor, backlit by the sun, which is trying to come out.

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