Several years ago, when my collection of poetry was released by Mayapple Press, I traveled to a writer's conference in Saginaw for a book release event. Part of the trip involved going to the house where Roethke grew up. The house has become a historic landmark, but it has retained much of the atmosphere Roethke knew as a child/young man. It was the root cellar of this house that inspired Roethke to write the following poem:
Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.
It's a great, evocative poem of place. Full of darkness and life. Like the root cellar's dirt, it practically breathes on the page.
My poem, inspired by Roethke, is based on a place in my home. I'm not sure if my poem does Roethke justice, but it's all I have.
Saint Marty hopes you have a great night.
Nothing could climb those stairs, crowded as corn
Fields at harvest, clothes piled like old photos--
Son at three months, daughter in kindergarten--
Leaning, spilling from diaper boxes,
Sleeves and legs akimbo, like monkey bars and slides.
And what a crib of smells!
Dresses fresh as dandelion soup,
Pajamas, lotion-seeped, urine-rich,
Shoes, bottles, burp cloths, leather, rubber, and spit.
All held on to child:
Even the wood steps cried a small milk cry.
|Roethke on his front porch|