Thursday, April 8, 2010

The A-Muse Mouse and the Poet.

This morning stepping out of bed, I noticed my joints were stiff and almost sticky. As I bent down to tie my walking shoe laces, my spine ached and cracked.

No, my physique is very well, thank you. What I’m talking about is the mental skeleton. Or more accurate, the muscles of the mind.

Walking is not just an exercise to get my physical pulse going. For lack of better words, I am training to improve that all important stamina of the soul. Or heart. Or whatever she is called, that conductor of my mental orchestra.

So when I closed the door behind me this morning, I held a poem in my hand, As I do every morning. I recite words with the same rhythm as I move my feet, hoping my hearts will expand (yes, the plural: body and soul) With a steady (inner!) voice and good intentions I move. When I am out of breath, I slow down.

Billy Collins in his Introduction to Poetry, asks his students to “take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide, or press an ear against its hive.” He says

“....drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out”

So that’s what I did. I slowed down to drop a mouse into that very poem.

I kept repeating the sentence again and again, to watch the mouse probe his way out. The idea got more and more absurd as I walked along, a mouse dropped into a pool of poetry! I imagined the little creature picked up by two giant fingers and then dropped just-like-that into a small lake. Water splashed everywhere. The mouse kicked and screamed, arms and legs and tail in one gigantic chaos. Till eventually he relaxed and realized the environment was friendly. That’s when the rhythm of his strokes changed from frantic doggy-paddle into front crawl.

But the absurdity did not stop here. For suddenly I myself was in the picture, I was that mouse, my feet kicking as I was picked up by two gigantic fingers. For a while I was in the air, dangling. Till I was dropped from a great height into the Grand Poem of Life. The water splashed when I hit water.

As I tried to familiarize myself with the surroundings, I said to myself - is this world basically friendly - or do I need to kick and fight for my life? Are my worries worth worrying about, or are my mental muscles stiff a result of bad habits?

I tried to relax, to change my stride, to slide along, making each stroke last longer. I wanted to see if my body would float.

And far away, on that distant shore, I caught sight of something gigantic. In a comforting moment, I imagined it was the Creator of all Poems, watching me as I probed my way out.


  1. Love this post, and I adore Billy Collins. I like that reference too about dropping the mouse into a poem. Too often, readers try to wrench or force deep/complex meaning out of every poem they read, and don't allow it to take them where it will. I also heard someone say (maybe it was Billy Collins) that a good poem is a like a room in which others can walk around in.

  2. Cindy -

    A huge YES to Billy Collins! I find his poetry touching in that it is both accessible and intriguing at the same time. There is something very human about him, the way he combines the everyday with the extraordinary. And the relaxed tone in which he reads his own poetry is just ahhhh......his voice as sexy as any Hollywood actor :-)

  3. grete, just yesterday (and the day before! and the day before that!) i was talking about the nature of life and our understanding of it, to my love. i was saying that, yes, i understood, for the most part, that life should just be lived and death accepted, but that within me there is a spring, a coiled urge to understand. this coil almost has a physical manifestation.

    there are many smaller poems, mutitudes. but it feels as though there is one larger poem that pulses around everything. i wonder if it is an artist's instinct to use that inner coil to get closer to it so that a mouse might be dropped? or perhaps that is every man's mission?


  4. Oh yes, Billy Collins is another of my absolute favorites among the contemporary poets. He, like Mary Oliver, has a way of taking the smallest of life's details and elevating them to a higher plane.

    You are so wise to be committing all these beautiful words to heart.

  5. Erin -
    I know just what you mean. I feel that coil too. I wrote about it in today’s post. A really, really curious incident.

    As for the multitudes of poems, being just the one: You said it. The pulse of a poem. The spirit. The breath. Blood running through each poem, with just the one heart.

    To use that coil. Beautifully said. Makes it somehow worth having it. Though sometimes it displaces my guts and forces my heart to one side.

    Is it every wo/man’s mission to express the mystery? I should think so. But the artist has received some special tools. Perhaps to be the conductor of the orchestra, writing, painting, dancing the music for everyone to understand that blood running, that flow, that beat.

    Becca -
    Billy Collins - just writing the name makes me smile.