When I thought about presenting poetry here, I knew exactly which poem I’d start with. I don’t have a favorite poem—I simply love too many poems to ever choose. But this poem embodies everything I love in a poem. It’s quiet, it’s simple, and it portrays a mood and captures a moment in time so beautifully.
Robert Hass was poet laureate from 1995-1997. His book Poet’s Choice is a wonderful collection of his nationally syndicated newspaper columns presenting a poem each week. It’s out of print but worth picking up if you can find a copy.
Afternoon cooking in the fall sun—
who is more naked
than the man
yelling, “Hey, I’m home!”
to an empty house?
thinking because the bay is clear,
the hills in yellow heat,
& scrub oak red in gullies
that great crowds of family
should tumble from their rooms
to throw their bodies on the Papa-body,
Cat sleeps in the windowgleam,
On the oak table
filets of sole
stewing in the juice of tangerines,
slices of green pepper
on a bone-white dish.
What I love about this poem:
This poem is so simple, but there’s so much going on. First, it’s a moment in time. It would take a man all of five or ten seconds to come in, yell “Hey, I’m home!”; wait for a response and get none; look inside, look outside; and notice the cat and the dust and the sole and peppers on the bone-white dish. It drives home the point that every moment of your life is full of poetry.
Second, it so beautifully puts its finger on the phenomena of momentary loneliness (and in the daytime, no less). We know the family isn’t gone for long and isn’t far away, because supper is stewing on the table.
Third, I love how it makes us a part of the scene. We’re there, looking around, wondering where everyone is, too. It draws us in and lets us decide what’s going on and how to feel about it.
Last—and this is a nerdy Englishy thing—I love the use of the word “bone” in the last line. No word could bring home the feeling of loneliness better than “bone.” Loneliness is an “at the bone” thing.
So, there you go. One of my absolute favorites. Don’t be shy, leave a comment, and let me know what you think. More favorites to come....