Laurel Peterson – Four Poems
We kayaked this morning—my first time.
The wind across the lake blew up tiny waves,
so you took me round the island
to where the water lilies grew,
their long stems snaking from the silt at the bottom,
their faces floating like white and yellow stars on a black firmament.
There’s one that you pulled from its bed
downstairs in a vase closing its face against us.
In the water, a path opened between flowers,
smooth and empty, dragonflies and water bugs
darting like flickering rays of sun,
sometimes stuck together—
two luminescent blue needles with wings,
I know it takes me forever to trust, but you
haven’t betrayed me once, saying only
I should dip the paddles this way,
scoop the water, and glide between lilies
into the calm.
How To Become A Pilot
First, love wings.
Marvel at their feathery construction,
their sleek shine in the sun.
Marvel that they can lift you
above sea breezes
into cumulous and nimbus.
See the stars as both guide
the earth as patterns
of brown, green and blue
to learn and follow.
Learn that breath is tentative,
a gift that atmosphere
Take deep lungfuls
while you can,
sip like champagne
when you can’t.
Remember that height is an illusion,
that it’s easy to tumble,
wings quickly damaged
by stray orbiting objects.
What you love is temporary,
blue only in imagination,
and beautiful, a magic
you are gifted
until you are forced to land.
On Route To L.A.
Off to the right I can see Vegas,
a spill of orange, green and yellow light
like faery dust, sprinkled across the night desert,
lives flickering among those lights.
speckled with headlights
move out across the dark
into the emptiness
of sky, heat, dry—
all we cannot see.
The Strip blinks on and off,
like the distant Christmas
our dark soul demands.
Its light shadows the sky,
bright haze against the blackness,
the city making its own atmosphere.
We hum by, a ship sinking toward L.A.,
her baseball and football fields lit,
one every twenty blocks.
This city gives up her glories slowly
as we lower toward her,
Pacific mist shredding across our wings,
glitter resolving into distinction, momentariness,
into shopping malls and parking lots,
and all the little blue lights of home.
And twisting across the grid, streets thrumming
with a constant crawl of taillights creep
through the electric landscape
toward the copper and silver sea.
Coming In Over Detroit, Which Is Covered By Clouds
Every day up here
I am encased in an expanse
of nothing that takes me in.
What stars I am gifted, what heavens
absorb me, of things unseen and seen.
I am not lonely in my emptiness;
If you ask me where I am,
I can give you stars and geometry,
but where you are is answered
only by the magic of light and air.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
What an interesting question: what beauty is made from. Can we make beauty? Often I think it is a gift, even if we are one channel through which beauty manifests itself in the world. Blues singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt had this to say about his songwriting: “Townes believed that the sky was full of songs just waiting to be pulled in. He said that ‘Pancho and Lefty’ came through the window of a seedy hotel room and that ‘If I Needed You’ came to him in his sleep, in a flu-driven fever dream. ‘I was just tapped on the shoulder from above and told to write these songs, as opposed to wanting to be a success in the music business,’ he told writer Don McLeese. ‘What I do is between me and the Lord, to examine and possibly alter the state of grace in which I live, and thereby the state of grace of anybody who listens’” (Michael Hall, Texas Monthly, March 1998, https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/the-great-late-townes-van-zandt/).
I like that idea of a “state of grace.” At the moment, in this tormented political environment, beauty is not only what I can see, touch or taste, but also is about peace. I’m defining peace partly as silence—or at least enough quiet that I can think—but also as a kind of internal space where the frenetic, technology-driven pace of our lives slows to stillness, and I can hold it all in my hand like a tiny, contented sparrow.
I believe all great art inspires that kind of stillness in us, at least momentarily, and, if we’re lucky, for longer. It’s like a startle effect: I have to pause because I have come across something that I cannot immediately absorb in my mind—I can only process it in my body. The mind may define something as beautiful, but it is the body that recognizes it and provides us with the sudden intake of breath, the moment when we look up and see what we’ve always seen in a new way. And if, in that moment, I am granted a perception that I can put into words, then maybe I will be lucky enough to pass it on as a beautiful poem.
Laurel S. Peterson is an English professor at Norwalk Community College and her poetry has been published in many literary journals. She has two chapbooks, That’s the Way the Music Sounds (Finishing Line Press) and Talking to the Mirror (Last Automat Press). Her full length collection, Do You Expect Your Art to Answer? (Futurecycle Press) was released in January 2017. She has also written a mystery novel, Shadow Notes, which is available through Barking Rain Press. She currently serves as the town of Norwalk, Connecticut’s poet laureate. More at: laurelpeterson.com.