It begins with W. B. Yeats. He’s often the instigator. A scattered string of birds struggles through the pearl-grey sky like jet beads slipping from a broken necklace.
“There, through the broken branches, go the ravens of unresting thought,” he murmurs from the passenger seat. I nod. W. B. understands a raven-haunted mind if anyone does.
Outside the car the dark arms of trees cling to their yellow leaves. Their branches always look starker, inked to almost-black in the rain.
Of course William Shakespeare never can resist an opportunity to comment on the poignancy of human mortality. “That time of year thou mayst in me behold,” he says, “when yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang upon those boughs which shake against the cold, bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.”
“The apparition of these faces in the crowd,” Ezra Pound weighs in, “petals on a wet, black bough.” Ezra sits back with a little smirk, feeling he’s just won a battle of literary economy.
John Keats is squirming in the back seat, perhaps not realizing that, for once, this is all Ezra has to say on the subject. “Where are the songs of spring?” he asks, his eyes straying lovingly across rain-soaked stubble fields as if to comfort them. “Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.”
We drive past a field, a half-secret tucked away between lines of trees below the road. This is a magical spot where I have taught my boys to look for whitetail deer and wild turkeys, knowing they are almost certain to see one or the other, or both on a good day. About a dozen wild turkeys sift the wet grass for whatever turkeys look for, their feathers rain-dark punches against washed green. There are deer, too, grazing in the soft quiet space.
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God!” exclaims Gerard Manley Hopkins from somewhere in the back seat, making the rest of us jump. I hadn’t realized he was back there, that most gorgeously Tourette’s-sounding of poets. “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil!”
I realize there are five poets in the car with me. It’s not possible that they’re all safely buckled in. I’m pretty sure Gerard has squeezed himself into the booster seat. I reflect on how a mind crammed with poetry is not a lonely place, and how perhaps being “introverted” doesn’t so much mean that you don’t want to be in a crowd, as that you already carry a crowd around with you. Even when the dead guys in my head start spouting pickup lines, they’re too lyrical to be annoying. It’s better conversation than you’ll find at the average party, anyway. The ancestral voices in my thoughts speak beauty, truth, all the things one needs to know. They are somehow at once pure emotion and pure intellect, and they raise goosebumps on my skin.
“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me,” agrees a quiet voice I haven’t heard yet today, “I know that is poetry.” I heave a mental sigh of relief. Emily Dickinson is in here, too. I was starting to wonder where the other women were, and if this was going to turn into some kind of dead poets’ society/bromance/road trip thing.
“All things turn to barrenness in the dim glass the demons hold,” intones W. B., speaking the words as if they are an incantation. My eyes wander across the dark mirror of the road to the apprehensive sky.