EyeJunkie Feature:Word Pictures

Joy in the Labor

November 22nd, 2011

12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY 10

I read this poem from the American Life in Poetry project last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I love the phrase “to claim a place in the bounty of earth.” Isn’t that what we really find ourselves about so many times? Claiming a place of bounty for our own hearts and spirits. So often we slip into thinking that bounty falls before us with no effort. That we are simply able to sit before a table amply spread and partake of bounty at no cost. But, as Mr. Levine writes, bounty more often comes through effort — through the conscious and persistent labors of grace in our lives and the staunch belief in our hearts that labor will be rewarded. And the belief that the bounty for which we labor is precious.

I’m reminded today that bounty must be cultivated as we root out the life of meaning that brings us joy. God is so incredibly generous. His provision is ample. But it is my responsibility to maintain that space for His abundance. It is my responsibility to put in the effort to cultivate my own heart, recognizing, claiming, and preserving what is important.

And, as the poem expresses, joy may be found in that labor. Our effort and struggle produces a greater measure of gratitude.

American Life in Poetry: Column 348


When we’re on all fours in a garden, planting or weeding, we’re as close to our ancient ancestors as we’re going to get. Here, while he works in the dirt, Richard Levine feels the sacred looking over his shoulder.

Believe This

All morning, doing the hard, root-wrestling
work of turning a yard from the wild
to a gardener’s will, I heard a bird singing
from a hidden, though not distant, perch;
a song of swift, syncopated syllables sounding
like, Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
Can you believe this, believe this, believe?

And all morning, I did believe. All morning,
between break-even bouts with the unwanted,
I wanted to see that bird, and looked up so
I might later recognize it in a guide, and know
and call its name, but even more, I wanted
to join its church. For all morning, and many
a time in my life, I have wondered who, beyond
this plot I work, has called the order of being,
that givers of food are deemed lesser
than are the receivers. All morning,
muscling my will against that of the wild,
to claim a place in the bounty of earth,
seed, root, sun and rain, I offered my labor
as a kind of grace, and gave thanks even
for the aching in my body, which reached
beyond this work and this gift of struggle.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2010 by Richard Levine, from his most recent book of poetry, That Country’s Soul, Finishing Line Press, 2010, by permission of Richard Levine and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

© Haley Montgomery


March 24th, 2011

A journey through a pasture is always an adventure. I have some experience in this. The wide open space with grasses of every flavor blowing becomes ripe for imagination regardless of the direction you’re traveling. In Spring and Summer, when the grasses are sharing their wealth and putting out seeds, you can’t help but walk carrying reminders of where you just stepped–little pieces of tomorrow’s blades and stalks stuck to your socks and shoes and pant-legs. You don’t really notice them while you’re in the pasture. The imaginative potential of each step is too overwhelming. The wealth of sensory intake from earth and sky and plants and wind is too distracting. It’s when you get home, that you see what you’ve brought back from the fields. This poem from the American Life in Poetry series talks about that moment. I wanted to share it because I’ve been thinking about journeys lately. In the winding paths of the lives we build, whether grassy fields or arduous hills, we bring the seeds from every step along with us–seeds just waiting to fall off in new places and sprout anew. Seeds waiting to be planted with intention in whatever fertile ground we cultivate. It’s so easy sometimes to overlook the potential of even the winding path, the hopelessly meandering journey or the seemingly wrong turn. But, seeds stick. With seeds, there is always potential.

American Life in Poetry: Column 313

Go for a walk and part of whatever you walk through rides back on your socks. Here Peter Everwine, a California poet, tells us about the seeds that stick to us, in all their beauty and variety.

Back from the Fields

Until nightfall my son ran in the fields,
looking for God knows what.
Flowers, perhaps. Odd birds on the wing.
Something to fill an empty spot.
Maybe a luminous angel
or a country girl with a secret dark.
He came back empty-handed,
or so I thought.

Now I find them:
thistles, goatheads,
the barbed weeds
all those with hooks or horns
the snaggle-toothed, the grinning ones
those wearing lantern jaws,
old ones in beards, leapers
in silk leggings, the multiple
pocked moons and spiny satellites, all those
with juices and saps
like the fingers of thieves
nation after nation of grasses
that dig in, that burrow, that hug winds
and grab handholds
in whatever lean place.

It’s been a good day.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2004 by Peter Everwine, whose most recent book of poetry is From the Meadow: Selected and New Poems, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. Poem reprinted from The Place That Inhabits Us, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2010, by permission of Peter Everwine and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2011 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


© Haley Montgomery

Flying Light

August 5th, 2010

Today is Little Drummer Boy’s first day of “big school” kindergarten. We’ve been anticipating it and talking about it all summer, and the big day finally arrived. It’s really just one more episode in a thousand new things LDB has been experiencing. When you are young, change seems so much more acceptable for some reason. Perhaps it’s because so many monumental changes in size and communication skills and motor skills are compacted into those first few years, that it really becomes “old hat.” It’s no wonder we seem ready to slow the process as we get older.

Little Drummer Boy was raring to go, all dressed up in his yellow and khaki school uniform and boasting a Bumblebee Transformer backpack–no doubt all he needs to face the big world today. The most energizing factor about the backpack seemed to be the fact that it lights up when he moves. LDB was intent on making sure the lights would show up in all our “first day of school” photo opportunities. I guess something about the red blinking lights amped up the “cool” factor. It’s hard to squelch the light. A realization I’m enjoying at the moment.

The start of school always seems symbolically to represent the ending of summer for me, despite the reality that we’ll likely have at least two or three more months of summertime temperatures in Mississippi. Beyond that, this start of school for Little Drummer Boy seems to represent the ending of his “baby-hood” and his launch into full-fledged “boy-dom.” And although I often tell him “you’ll always be my baby,” there’s no turning back now. Yes, he was raring to go. And, I have to admit that I couldn’t help but want to hold the reigns a little tighter.

In the excitement of heading down the sidewalk toward Sudduth Elementary this morning, LDB stumbled and fell while holding my hand. My heart sank for a moment — a moment ripe with emotions and memories and hopes and a twinge of worry. Will he cry? Will a fall overshadow the fun of the morning? Will this squelch his excitement for the day and this new experience?  Little Drummer Boy’s response was to stand up without a flinch and say, “I’m ok. I love you Mommy.” It’s hard to squelch the light.

Earlier this week, the latest American Life in Poetry installment graced my inBox. The featured poem, Fireflies, couldn’t be more appropriate in my mind at the moment. “Lightening bugs,” as we call them around here, are the hallmark of Summertime and catching them is a typical joy for almost any “boydom” or “girlhood.” Little Drummer Boy and Bug have had their share of experiencing the chase and the wonder of these little incandescent creatures. Baby Girl hasn’t had the pleasure yet, but I’m sure she’ll enjoy the experience with her own flair in due time. Even as a grown-up, I can clearly remember that there is nothing quite as giggle-inducing or excitement-sparking as capturing the fly in two hands, peeking into the dark space to glimpse the light and then opening your fingers wide to see him fly away spreading his light into the night sky. That moment is beautifully described in this poem, and it reminded me… There’s nothing quite as exciting as holding their light and letting it go for the rest of the sky to experience.

Last Summer after one of the boys’ excursions in pursuit of fireflies, I recorded one of my favorite Little Drummer Boy quotes. I’ve shared it before, but I was thinking of it this morning. They bustled back into the house all sweaty and filled laughter. They had caught two lighting bugs. And in their inspection, LDB announced that one of them “COULD NOT turn his light off.” If there is any one thing I can hope for Little Drummer Boy as he embarks on this year’s new experiences it is that he CAN NOT turn his light off. It’s a brilliant light that deserves to fly.

American Life in Poetry: Column 280

Marilyn Kallet lives and teaches in Tennessee. Over the years I have read many poems about fireflies, but of all of them hers seems to offer the most and dearest peace.


In the dry summer field at nightfall,
fireflies rise like sparks.
Imagine the presence of ghosts
flickering, the ghosts of young friends,
your father nearest in the distance.
This time they carry no sorrow,
no remorse, their presence is so light.
Childhood comes to you,
memories of your street in lamplight,
holding those last moments before bed,
capturing lightning-bugs,
with a blossom of the hand
letting them go. Lightness returns,
an airy motion over the ground
you remember from Ring Around the Rosie.
If you stay, the fireflies become fireflies
again, not part of your stories,
as unaware of you as sleep, being
beautiful and quiet all around you.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Marilyn Kallet, from her most recent book of poetry, Packing Light: New and Selected Poems, Black Widow Press, 2009. Reprinted by permission of Marilyn Kallet. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

© Haley Montgomery

The Shape of the World

May 27th, 2010

I’ve been holding on to this installment of the American Life in Poetry project in my inbox for some time now–from back in September of last year. I was so moved by the picture of hard work, of changing the landscape, of observing the motion of change. I just couldn’t let go of it, but I also didn’t know quite what to do with it.

My life is undergoing some changes right now. (Aren’t all our lives?) I hope to share more over the next several weeks, but at the moment, so many things are in that frustrating state of transition that I can barely breathe. Transition is incredibly uncomfortable. In the vernacular of Ms. Woloch’s poem, that ill-defined process of going from chunks of rock to dust somewhere between the old place of concrete and the new place of re-formed earth is frightening to watch–and to live. I like for things to be settled. I like to know what’s going on, what’s going to happen, where I stand. In real life, that’s not always possible. What do you do?

The best course revealed itself with another reading of this poem as I was clearing out the cobwebs in Mac Mail. The simple thought of changing the shape of the world with each single motion seemed powerful. In the seemingly powerless state of changing circumstances, my old friend diligence brings comfort and purpose. I want it now. I want it done. I want it really with as little effort and discomfort as possible. But, in reality, not much change happens that way, does it? The diligent and steady movement toward change may be sweaty, but it works. Simple and consistent–even faithful–acts affect change. They affect change at a pace that is manageable. With each blow to the hardened concrete or the bumpy ground to create flattened space, I grow more and more comfortable with the new form of my life. I’m more and more able to embrace the new terrain. And, I’m more and more capable of tilling it into new fertile ground. Diligent acts. They change the shape of the world. And, they change the shape of the world again.

American Life in Poetry: Column 236

Cecilia Woloch teaches in California, and when she’s not with her students she’s off to the Carpathian Mountains of Poland, to help with the farm work. But somehow she resisted her wanderlust just long enough to make this telling snapshot of her father at work.

The Pick

I watched him swinging the pick in the sun,
breaking the concrete steps into chunks of rock,
and the rocks into dust,
and the dust into earth again.
I must have sat for a very long time on the split rail fence,
just watching him.
My father’s body glistened with sweat,
his arms flew like dark wings over his head.
He was turning the backyard into terraces,
breaking the hill into two flat plains.
I took for granted the power of him,
though it frightened me, too.
I watched as he swung the pick into the air
and brought it down hard
and changed the shape of the world,
and changed the shape of the world again

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from When She Named Fire, ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009, by permission of Cecilia Woloch and the publisher. The poem first appeared in Sacrifice by Cecilia Woloch, Tebot Bach, 1997. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

© Haley Montgomery

Tues Ten 051110: Poems I’m Reading

May 11th, 2010

For some reason lately, I’ve been reading more poetry. Maybe it was the whole Poetry Month thing. I’ve been revisiting some of the poems that I’ve enjoyed over the years and experiencing some new ones from poets I’m not quite as familiar with. There is something about a well-turned phrase that just gets my Junkie juices flowing. And, great poems are full of well-turned phrases and concise ideas expressed in unusual ways. It’s a type of writing I’ve only dabbled in, but one that I tremendously admire. I decided to share a few of the selections with you. I can’t say they are my favorites because the word favorite has always carried way to much pressure for me. What if I decide I really like another one tomorrow? “Favorite” is such a relative term in my book.  So, let’s just say these are verses I’m enjoying at this moment. That totally leaves it open for me to change my Junkie mind. So, this week I give you the Tuesday Ten: Poems I’m Reading. Complete with a few lines I enjoy from each. Maybe you’ll enjoy reading them too.

1. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

I can say with complete assurance that Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets. I don’t mind using the term “favorite” with his work. I’m completely enamored of a poet who can rhyme without you realizing it’s a rhyme. This verse is one I continually come back to.

2. “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —
I know why the caged bird sings!

I love the line… “And he would be free.” It speaks of an intense and unquenchable desire. He would be. Free.
full text here

3. “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.

I’ve posted this poem before. Those two lines are remarkable. It finishes with “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” Indeed.
full text here

4. “Putting in the Seed” by Robert Frost.

The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.

There he is again. I’ve always thought those last two lines were such a picture of courage and determination.
full text here

5. “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

A poem, in part, about “grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight.” Sometimes the light is brightest when we realize it is waning.
full text here

6. “Words from a Totem Animal” by W. S. Merwin

Send me out into another life
lord because this one is growing faint
I do not think it goes all the way

My one-word description of this poem is ethereal. It is long and challenging, full of searching and beautiful.
full text here

7. “Narration” by Giorgos Seferis

We’ve grown used to him; like everything else you’re used to
he doesn’t stand for anything
and I talk to you about him because I can’t find
anything that you’re not used to;

George Seferis is a Greek poet I’ve mentioned before. This poem describes an encounter with a local man, someone people are “used to.” Can there be anything sadder than someone you’re just used to? I hope I never see the ones I love that way.
full text here

8. “Daddy Longlegs” by Ted Kooser

it would be the secret dream
of walking alone across the floor of my life
with an easy grace, and with love enough
to live on at the center of myself.

This lone walk of living at peace with the core of ourselves inspite of the world is found in a picture of the small and insignificant march of an insect. Amazing what we see when we pay attention.
full text here

9. “Passion for Solitude” by Cesare Pavese

A gulp of my drink, and my body can taste the life
of plants and of rivers. It feels detached from things.
A small dose of silence suffices, and everything’s still,
in its true place, just like my body is still.

Though translated from Italian, Pavese’s language is frank and beautiful describing a supper in solitude and the breath of calm and stillness it brings.
full text here

10. “Reluctance” by Robert Frost

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

This may be my “favorite” Frost poem. His observation of human nature is very astute in all his poetry, but none more than in describing our utter resistance to letting go.
full text here

© Haley Montgomery

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