With this said, I feel shy to post a recent poem I've been working on, yet perhaps under the tall balding shadow of Bob Hicok the Michigander, I too can try to be a poetic voice for Michigan. Maybe someday, Bob and I could bring back the ever popular campaign our home state had so aptly titled, "Say Yes, to Michigan!" Frankly, I am not sure what we were suppose to be saying yes to? Say yes to the Great Lakes, sure. Say yes to Vernors, double sure. Say yes to the U.P. yup. Say yes to unemployment and shadowed Detroit, not so sure.
You see, my feelings of poetry are very similar to how I feel about Michigan. I am loyal, stubbornly loyal to writing poetry and to the state where I was born, raised and educated in. Yet I find myself not fully able to "Say Yes, to Michigan" and well to say yes to poetry, all the time. For now, in Montana with a lot of flat grass and rock between me and Michigan, I long for lakes and the light of spring in thick birch-oak forests and the smell of wet earth unfolding. But sometimes you just have to write a lot of bad poems to work at one good line of poetry just like maybe you have to live a lot of places to work at your loyalty to where you were born. As I live far from Michigan and write poems about my home, I find myself finally being able to adore the state.
I've never been one for watching sports and I truly don't understand rooting for teams on television, but it is how I feel when I hear of any positive news about Michigan. As if I am cheering from the sidelines for this state that seems to be making headlines as Hicok has said as, "the poster child for our recession." And maybe it has been, with a 24% unemployment rate and a long list of disappointments in the auto industry, Michigan could be photographed on your milk carton. But in the Michigan of my mind, it is beautiful, broad in changing landscapes and there is always water, a "water winter wonderland" ( another more poetic campaign slogan).
And so, I give you this poem, Michigan. I am sure there will be plenty more, I hope. And maybe this is just a clumsy poem to hopefully get closer to writing a good one someday. But I give this to you as a token for all the time I spent staring at your water and dreaming of myself as coming from another state, somewhere not so in the middle. But I thank you, Michigan, for teaching me to accept what we are. We are middleWest. And even if we see ourselves as walruses, may we be beautiful in our seal suits.
(Please note: there aren't any walruses in the Great Lakes. Despite the questions I used to field from tourists who would ask, "Are these shrimp fresh from Lake Michigan?" Sorry, just lakes of fresh water.)
Enjoy the poem.
The Walrus in Us
Winter houses gulp people whole
like a broad mouthed whale, curtained teeth
and chimneyed tails, beached in drifts of snow
and stale forced air. Most days, not even mail
brings relief, just pages of catalog-fresh strangers
smiling barefoot on a distant shore. You forget
your feet on sand, now slippered fins you walk
as horse whale. Your body, walrused in months
of winter, sinks in the ocean of your youth.
So you build a raft from scraps of summer,
where you want to live as winged instead
of pinniped. No longer couched to routine, you float
and crest over waves of middle age, sprouting
grey hair, until you hear a choir barking
in tune and find yourself comfortable in a seal suit
looking zoo cute, even with long whiskers.