Poem of the Week | November 09, 2015

This week we offer a new poem by Gary L. McDowell. McDowell is the author of five collections of poetry, including Mysteries in a World that Thinks There Are None (Burnside Review Press, 2016), winner of the 2014 Burnside Review Press Book Award; Weeping at a Stranger’s Funeral (Dream Horse Press, 2014); and American Amen (Dream Horse Press, 2010), winner of the 2009 Orphic Prize in Poetry. He’s also the co-editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry (Rose Metal Press, 2010). His poems and essays have appeared in journals such as American Poetry Review, The Nation, Gulf Coast, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, and Colorado Review. He lives in Nashville, TN with his family where he’s an assistant professor of English at Belmont University.
Author’s note:

Alice Fulton wrote, “Narrative is about what happens next; poetry is about what happens now.” In writing “Massive and Tiny as a Star,” I was trying to create the immediacy Fulton requires of poetry without losing the ‘what happens next.’ My daughter was stung by a bee last summer—she was three years old—while sitting on my lap. I felt—still feel, really—guilty, felt like I’d let her down somehow, but of course it was merely a coincidence, a happenstance, a ‘narrative’ outside of my control. But the poem started with me thinking about bees, about their wingedness. Then bats. Then birds. “I [felt] like singing.” The image of a dead bird nailed to my neighbor’s front door is a fabrication, but the nest, that really happened, and it made me feel the same kind of vulnerability I felt when that bee stung my daughter: a helpless kind, a spinning-ones-wheels kind. So a bit of this, a bit of that, and the poem happened “next.”


Massive and Tiny as a Star


The bees are constellations in the garden,
drunk on basil and shining.


The world needs experience,
I need two windows,


one to bring light and one
to bring—your lips are salted


like pumpkin seeds, blanched almonds—
the crickets closer. I wish I could sing.


My son practices writing his name
on the window with his forefinger.


He draws circles around the sun, asks me
where’s the moon go at sun-time?


One morning, my neighbor woke
to find a robin nailed through its wings


to his front door—its nest,
with two blue eggs nestled still,


sat on the welcome mat. Kids,
he said. That night we drank wine


on his porch, watched the bats
hang from the pylons like black


grapes. In twilight they gathered
themselves, and once pitch, lunged


and fluttered after bugs visible only
as fuzzy shapes under the streetlamps.


Now, your forehead is hot.
I feel like singing. Vines grow


up, crawl the sides of things, root
shallow and cling. The cruelty of death


is that it brings the real sorrow of the end
but is not the end. When it rains here,


little stones fall too, pinging
off the windows, and sometimes


off the birds. They must think
they will fly forever, in the same place.