standing in the garden...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Elaine Equi

Sometimes I Get Distracted

            for Philip Whalen

Throwing a ball

like a bridge
over an old wound

like a cape
thrown chivalrously
over incoherent muck.

Catching it
is easy.

“Now toss it back,”

says the Zen monk
standing in his garden
centuries away.


Equi’s poem has such a grand capacity for transporting the reader – “like a bridge,” like a cape”. The notion of a ball that, somehow, defies time is so effective because, perhaps, of the child in every person. This also raises the view of a connection between cultures, between people, between ideologies. There is a call for action: throwing and tossing back. Notice how Equi places the ball, in its arc, over the images of wound and muck in a display of transcendence.

A monk – symbolic of belief, of action – in the garden, somehow standing outside of time, or the norm, or the expected, is a strong image to close this piece. Standing implies a certain commitment, a certain patience, and will. Gardens must surely force us to consider the process of life, of creativity, of art.

The poet throws the poem – the ball – the reader catches it. But, the poetry will not stop there. Equi wants this to continue… And so it does. My fingers type the words you are reading. You catch them. “Now toss it back”.


Billy The Blogging Poet said...

You've been nominated for the 2007 Poet Laureate of The Blogosphere. Good luck.

Paula said...

I enjoyed the poem as much as your excellent commentary on it, Sam.

gemellen said...

likewise. what a perfect way to start my sunday.

LKD said...

This poem reminds me of a passage from a book called Shoeless Joe (which, incidentally, was the inspiration or source of that man-weeping movie, "Field of Dreams"--which, incidentally, is the only time I've ever been in a theater and heard men crying--actually, to extend this parenthetical even further, I also heard men crying when I saw "Platoon"), in which the narrator, as a young boy, takes his brand spanking new bb gun out in the yard to give it a whirl (can guns be given a whirl?) and proceeds to shoot a songbird and kill it.

He takes the bird into his mother who, if I recall correctly, is at the ironing board ironing shirts, and shows her his um, er, handy work.

She says, rather bluntly (and this is paraphrased...I guess I could run and look it up in the book, but I'm not motivated enough to do so):

Bring it back to life.

The child doesn't understand his mother's demand.

She repeats: You killed it. Now, bring it back to life.

Ah, hell...I'm butchering this...

lemme go get the damned book...

Okay, so my memory's not shot completely to hell. It was his father's .22 though, not a bb gun, and he shoots at a row of sparrows:

"I actually felt its heart stop beating as I carried it in to show my mother. I was a sproud as our yellow cat when she dragged home a snake or mouse to prove her ability as a huntress.

'Bring it back to life,' my mother said, looking up from her ironing board. The scent of scorched cloth drifted about the room, dark to my yes after the blazing sky outdoors.

My mouth dropped open. I was expecting high praise.

'Bring it back to life,' my mother said again, holding the iron's dull silver base toward me as a knight might hold a shield.

I stood dumbfounded for a moment. 'I can't,' I whispered, feeling as small as the bird cooling in my hand.

'Well, until you can, I don't think you should shoot anything unless you need it for food.'"

That whole passage came clearly into my mind, triggered by these lines:

"Catching it is easy. Now toss it back."

Catching it IS easy.

It's the tossing back that's tricky.

Thanks for this poem, Sam.

Thanks for reminding me of a book that I gave to my father to read, a book I found on his bookshelf after he died.

Thanks for reminding me of that rare sound, of men crying in the dark.

And thanks for reminding me that it isn't enough to merely cath it.

It must be tossed back.

LKD said...

Geez, typos typos.

That "yes" should be "eyes" ("dark to my eyes").

And of course, that "cath" at the end of my rambling comment should be "catch."


I only saw my father cry twice in my whole life.

Once, when our beloved dog, Tippy, was hit and killed by a car on Holy Saturday. (The young man who hit her never saw her because she was sleeping in the street--we lived in a very rural part of New Hampshire back then and our dog and her friend, the neighbor's dog, Buffy, often took naps in the street on summer afternoons--and came to our front door crying as he tried to explain and apologize).

The second time was after my father's brother died.

Sorry for the long ramble.

Sometimes, a poem just opens me up and all kinds of stuff comes falling out.

Pamela said...

I read this poem and think What is the sound of one hand throwing?

Great post, as always.

PS I love the Kinsella book, especially Salinger hidden among the corny ears.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks Paula, GG, Laurel - great connection - and Pamela for the read. I appreciate it.