READING BLAKE IN 1968
He put his long fingers (Ichabod Crane,
I thought to myself) together and looked
at us. It was 1968, early January
and the radiators (well what?) were
clanking in the upper hell of Lind
(did it sing like a nightingale?) Hall.
Fingertips touching, tip to tip,
he answered a question we hadn’t asked
and said: No, Blake wasn’t mad,
Blake wasn’t mad at all . . .
in a way that indicated he was—which
is why we all wanted to see a world
in a grain of sand, and why, that summer,
someone was always saying, Ah Sun-flower!
For practical purposes, I had to
pretend I did not exist (I did not
exist) although at night a plate of toast
and cup of tea would disappear. I marked
out places on the map where I might live,
sang “To Susan on the West Coast Waiting”
and “Oh Canada” in a slip-slide of
Joni Mitchell’s silky blues. I was not
there, and when Spring came (“Tin Soldiers and
Nixon’s Coming”), I was not anywhere.
Once, during those days, I walked through Brunswick
in snow much like the snow that fell back home—
whiter even then the snows of childhood
and snowmen who had melted clean away.
MOVING TO THE MOUNTAINS
That spring, Richard Nixon was the president,
and his tin soldiers shot four students
in Ohio. We drove the Dakotas
into Montana, into high places
where the snow was falling, then dropped into
Yellowstone about the Twelfth of June.
Waterfalls crashed, and geysers erupted.
Hot springs, the color of morning-glories,
bubbled and steamed. We pitched our tent on the
pine needle floor, made a fire in the rain.
In Colorado, our friends were waiting
in a white house in Gilpin County.
All summer we sat on the porch watching
the horses graze, the sky a purple rain.
HOW WE MADE IT TO CALIFORNIA
We didn’t have anything back then—just
an old Chevrolet and a sackful of
clothes. In the mornings, we toasted our bread
on forks held in front of the space heater.
Each day we went to the orchards where we’d
learned how to fill a bin without breaking
off stems or bruising the apples. We threw
our ladders against the tree like migrants,
and by the end of the season we had
enough cash to make it down to Berkeley
by way of Cannon Beach and Eureka,
all the way down on Highway 101.
I don’t think we were ever happier
than that, living on just about nothing.
AT THE RIM
We did not take 101 south from San
Francisco; we did not take Highway 1
through Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel,
and Big Sur. Instead, we went through Fresno
and into Arizona through Needles,
up and around to the Grand Canyon’s rim,
where we were the only human beings
for miles and miles, across and up and down.
I stood at the lookout, dizzied by the
colors, the vast canyon, deep as any
mountain is high. He stepped over the
railing, spread his arms as if they were wings
but he didn’t fly away—he just stood
on one leg, the way the birds often do.
Joyce Sutphen grew up on a farm in Stearns County, Minnesota. Her first collection of poems, Straight Out of View, won the Barnard New Women Poets Prize; Coming Back to the Body was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award, and Naming the Stars won a Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. In 2005, Red Dragonfly Press published Fourteen Sonnets in a letterpress edition. She is one of the co-editors of To Sing Along the Way, an award winning anthology of Minnesota women poets. Her fourth collection, First Words, was published in 2010; in 2012, House of Possibility, a letter press edition of poems, was published by Accordion Press, followed by After Words, which was published in 2013, and Modern Love & Other Myths (2015), which was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award. Her latest collection, The Green House, was published by Salmon Press (Ireland) in 2017. She is the second Minnesota Poet Laureate, succeeding Robert Bly, and she is professor emeritus of literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.