Poetry of the Everyday

My sister, Eleanor, was a published poet. In much of her poetry, she captured the infinite number of details of everyday life and was able to express those details with stunning clarity. I used one of her poems, “Oranges, Really,” to illustrate the power and complexity of the everyday in my Slagle lecture (2006, The world of everyday occupation: Real people, real lives. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, Vol. 6, pp. 627-640). I think of her poetry as giving voice to the everyday in our lives, i.e., enabling the everyday to “speak.”

I share with you, here, one of her poems in which she focused on our growing-up years in Wisconsin. The march of the telephone poles along the roadways of our “farmtown,” the changing nature and yet stability of the poles in our landscape across the seasons, and the comfort of the familiar rendered them “mainstays of the way things looked in that country world.”

TELEPHONE POLES

Eleanor Risteen Gordon

Come spring,
a warning sweeps the suburbs:
Call before you dig a hole
for your new shrub
you may get a shock
through your shovel
as it strikes our underground cable
Thank you Bell Telephone.

Once
telephone poles ice-creaked in the cold
as I walked into
winter’s stiff white beauty–
farmtown, Wisconsin.
Sun prismed through glazed wires
hurt my eyes.
Midmorning thaw and
crystal husks pocked the snow;
the wires sang.

Summer’s telephone poles
were the inch-marks on ruler roads,
measuring the hills,
were backrests after bike rides,
staffs for the trumpet vine,
weathered gray against its orange.
A rotten pole, dug up, left
one cut vine weeping sap for days.

Mainstays
of the way things looked
in that country world,
jeweled with green-blue insulators,
their wires flung in rows forever.

Hugging their gray girths,
my ear to their splintery hides,
I could feel sound–
not the messages they carried,
but their own communing
August-warm
like grasshoppers’ legs on long grass blades,
like milkweed pods rasping silk.

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