Monday, the mailman delivered “A Conference of Birds” into my hands. I’d been waiting with excitement for the recently released chapbook by Christopher Martin, father of Cannon and Opal, husband to Deanna, editor of Flycatcher: A Journal of Native Imagination.
My husband Richard read the book before I did. Yes, he does read poetry now and then, and has been known to write a little poetry. He’s quick to tell me what he likes and doesn’t like. After reading “He Who Planted Trees with God,” a work of nonfiction by Chris in drafthorse, he decided to take a look at the author's poetry. My husband is choosy and won’t waste his time reading something that doesn’t immediately touch him. He wants it spelled out in clear language. He says, "I don't want to read anything that's not what it appears to be." As a man who plants and sows and digs and nourishes a garden of beautiful flowers, trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses, and plants of all kinds, he prefers poetry that deals with the simple life. He found me in the studio writing. The book was in his hands. He turned it, touching the cover, and I saw the title: “A Conference of Birds." He told me, “I like him.” Meaning, of course, that he likes the author. When asked which poem he likes best, he said, “The Water Oak. The one about the grandfather talking about death.”
I’ve pulled a few lines from the poem. The grandfather has been speaking to his grandson about coffins and cremation and old women who always say corpses look good in their caskets. He goes on to say:
About as good a chance
as anybody’s got at eternal life
is going back to the ground,
feeding a tree like this one here,
living forever in its leaves,
My husband identifies with the grandfather who hopes he might live forever by nourishing a tree after his death. The grandfather—the poem—says everything Richard feels. The words of that poem live now in my husband who hopes to one day fertilize some soil so something else might live. Does that mean Chris’s poem—the words now planted in Richard’s soul— will live forever in the trees?
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