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Monday, June 02, 2008

my state, his poem


If you want to see this temporary collage better, click on it. And no, everything doesn't have significance. A few things do. Can you spot them?
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Oh, and it isn't easy to make a collage when you've cleaned out your junk drawers after reading the wabi sabi book. I had to dig into the jewelry box, the feather vase and a few other storage places.

Three New Yorker magazines had piled up without my reading a single article. So I put them in order and started with the May 19 edition.

I always read the poems first, and this was the first poem. It tickled me so much I want to share it with you. Well, and it also has a couple of funny but sad lines.

(I was born in Lansing, Michigan in 1956. I've lived in other parts of the country and the world - Oregon, Chicago, Pasadena, Istanbul - a few years here and there, but I've lived in the mitten state almost as long as this poet, Bob Hicok.)

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A Primer
by Bob Hicok


I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go
to be in Michigan. The right hand of America
waving from maps or the left
pressing into clay a mold to take home
from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan
forty-three years. The state bird
is a chained factory gate. The state flower
is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical
though it is merely cold and deep as truth.
A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”
can sincerely use the word “sincere.”
In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.
When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.
There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life
goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,
which we’re not getting along with
on account of the Towers as I pass.
Then Ohio goes corn corn corn
billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget
how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.
It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.
The Upper Peninsula is a spare state
in case Michigan goes flat. I live now
in Virginia, which has no backup plan
but is named the same as my mother,
I live in my mother again, which is creepy
but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,
suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials
are needed. The state joy is spring.
“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”
is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,
when February hasn’t ended. February
is thirteen months long in Michigan.
We are a people who by February
want to kill the sky for being so gray
and angry at us. “What did we do?”
is the state motto. There’s a day in May
when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics
is everywhere, and daffodils are asked
by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes
with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.
In this way I have given you a primer.
Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.

28 comments:

Anet said...

This is so great! I've found lots of things that have meaning. But being from Michigan, I'll wait until others have a chance to guess what they are. It's only fair. I'll check back later. Love the poem. I love the part about a child's handprint in clay!

Loring Wirbel said...

True Michigan fans should not be without Sufjan Stevens' fabulous
"Greetings from Michigan" album (the first of what he says will be albums for all 50 states, though only "Illinois" is out so far). In fact, it's better to get the double-vinyl version of "Michigan" instead of the CD, since you get an extra couple songs, including one about Pickeral (stet) Lake, where the Goerings and Oswills had their cottages.

Sharon said...

Like Anet, I won't spoil the symbology for those not from Michigan.

I really enjoyed and could relate to the poem and it's imagery. He was dead on about the February's but forgot to mention the aggressive traffic! It is not a place for the faint of heart (like me) but more for hardy wolverines.... a whirlwind, a stampede, a place of paradoxes, and "a place to go to be in Michigan".....(so funny).
I remember dewey mornings, great trees and long lines at the DMV!

So Loring, after living in the west are you still a "fan" of the wolverine state???

Loring Wirbel said...

Sharon, I miss aspects of Michigan every day, but the whole durned state, and particularly the small town where Ruth and I grew up, was so parochial that folks thought that a trip to Chicago was going to a foreign country. I never got to try anything further ethnic than Taco Bell until I went to Arizona, and I used to tell my folks they deprived me of an alphabet's worth of vegetables beginning with artichokes and avocados. Sure, you can live in Ann Arbor or East Lansing and go to a Thai restaurant, but the consciousness horizon of too many Michiganders seemed hopelessly limited -- or at least it did when I left the state in 1977. Now I miss it more.

Sharon said...

I'm sure where you and Ruth grew up was an entire world away from my childhood in Garden City!!!

I love Ann Arbor and the foliage of Michigan but that's about it. The striking thing for me when I moved to Wyoming was how much gentler people were here. And it isn't just superficial, I find people I've never met to be easy and approachable as well as people I've known for 20 years. It's stupid really, but if I needed help I know that the person next to me would do whatever they could for me. I like that, enough so that I am able to live in this conservative mecca despite being radically liberal. And talk about parochial, you'd probably hate it! (and I'd love to boycott Dunkin Donuts with you but there isn't one in the state!!! :)

Ruth said...

Anet, but you and Loring and Sharon are the ones who SHOULD name the recognizably Michigan items. :)

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Loring, ok WHERE do you hear about these things?? Are Steven's albums all songs pertaining to the state, that he wrote?

I sooo know what you mean about food, but I thought it was the whole US. It was a MI thing? The mac and cheese, any recipes that involved Campbell's soup, and never tasting garlic that didn't come out of a shaker bottle?

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Sharon, like I told Anet, it was you, she and Loring I was hoping would point out the MI stuff. Oh well, I'll post them tomorrow.

It is fun to hear you talk about Wyoming vis a vis Michigan. The only place I lived where people were helpful was Istanbul. No Dunkin Donuts?? How deprived! haha

Sharon said...

Oh Ruth, that is so funny!!! Powdered garlic, Campbell's soup, and macaroni and cheese......I just thought that was our house! I didn't know it was the whole state!!!

Ruth said...

Oh yes, and canned peas, canned asparagus, canned beans, and on special days - Sundays - FROZEN of each of those, what a treat!

My poor mother was feeding 10, and I do not in any way mean to criticize HER, bless her heart, she took care of us so well. But the state of the state/country at that time was so far from the source we thought it was a treat to eat things out of a box and a can, I guess. How wonderful that we have evolved to eat closer to the source, eh??

Loring Wirbel said...

Ruth, In the collage, I recognize a Petoskey stone, and I remember the "Choose" button, but that's about it. Grade of C-.
Hey, Sufjan Stevens is world-famous these days. Smithsonian magazine just named him one of the "25 most influential people under 35." Hate to say it, but his real masterpiece is "Illinoise", more so than the Michigan album. He takes repeating electronic music of a Phillip Glass style, layers old-timey banjo and fiddle over it, and has fantastic lyrics and arrangements. And in his tours, he even has cheerleaders in full pom-poms, along with brass and string sections.

And Sharon, do you mean Garden City, NY, or is there a Michigan Garden City? If the former, I have stayed at the Garden City Hotel and hung out with the hoi polloi while visiting Oyster Bay and Country Life Press and all those snooty Long Guyland locations...

Sharon said...

Ruth,
I hate to admit this but I don't think was ever "treated" to a frozen vegetable (unless you count tater tots...ugh) until I had left the state!!! It was always from a can....oh man, now you know all of my dark secrets!!!

And yes, Loring there is a Garden City, Michigan, which is where I spent my first 21 years of life before escaping). Have you heard of Westland, Dearborn, Inkster, or Livonia??? They are all one big working class area along with Garden City. Here I am laying myself bare and yet I've spent the last 20 years running away from that heritage! I should be making up some wildly romantic fantasy of my past rather than wallowing in truth.........geez, maybe next! time!

Sandie said...

From a native with a 4th grader studying "Michigan Studies"......There is a copper penny for the copper mines. There are car keys for the auto industry. Indian beads for those who gave the state its name. A golf tee for the Buick Open. and are the shells for the water? what else lurks here??? I bet there is more.

Anet said...

Ok, it's my turn... I spy a copper penny for Copper Harbor. (been there) I spy a Christmas ball for Christmas,MI (been there) I spy the petoskey stone for Petoskey, MI
(been there) I spy car keys for the Motor City, Detroit (been there.)
I spy a star for THE BEST Capital City, hehe.... and Love the Native American bead doll and the birch bark for the Ojibwe Indians! Did I miss anything?

Loring Wirbel said...

Sharon, Oh sure, I know the Livonia area, had a few friends there, just didn't remember Garden City. Wow, Sandie and Anet, I'm impressed! Sufjan, by the way, grew up in Petoskey, so you could paste his pic on the stone.

Gwen Buchanan said...

So imaginative! You are now top puzzle maker Ruth,, This has been quite the entertainment reading everyones connections with a part of the world I know little about...

It seems everywhere is basically the same when you take an overall view...past/future, now/then... seems it is all relative... Fun just the same...

Ruth said...

Loring, and have you heard him on tour? Hehe, Illinoise, those albums sound fun. I miss the old comedy albums my parents listened to when we were kids. Now we have YouTube, I guess.

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Garden City, MI, oh yes, I know that area, not well, but Don's parents lived in Plymouth back in the day. The thing is you CHOSE Wyoming, you can't help where you came from. And I think you are quite exotic living by the Tetons in a log house with yours and your husband's art on the walls, are you kidding me?? And have you noticed how many people are FROM Michigan (like the poem says, you never forget how to be from Michigan)?

Ruth said...

Oh Sandie, is this the Sandie, Sharon's sister? Yes yes, copper penny, good one, car keys, Indian princess, and the shells yep. Now the golf tee is hard to read, it actually has "credit union" on it, also a very Michigan thing, but good guess for the Buick Open! And hey, don't you have a blog??

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Anet, yes you and Loring got the Petoskey stone, yep car keys, the star yes, the beaded NA girl and yes birch bark. Yay! I think y'all got all the significant ones! And if I find a picture of Sufjan, Loring, I'll put it on the stone!

Ruth said...

Gwen, hey, sorry for all the esoteric Michigan excitement, but you're right, we're all just the same, and now you're connected with all these Michiganders, whether you like it or not. Thanks for joining in, and I don't think I know if you are a native to the Bay of Fundy? And did you grow up with macaroni and cheese and canned peas?

Loring Wirbel said...

The summer of 2006 I went with a crowd of about 23 people, between 17 and 60 years old, who went to see Sufjan at The Bluebird Theatre in Denver. Great fun.

Gwen Buchanan said...

Canned peas, and green beans; macaroni and tomatoes; and homemade baked beans....and lots and lots of Potatoes.... I always thought I could make a million by writing a book of "one hundred ways with Potatoes"..but don't get me started...

Ruth said...

Loring, that sounds like an absolute HOOT.

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Gwen, at least you mixed it up a little: tomatoes. And HOMEMADE baked beans. As for potatoes 100 ways, put me on the waiting list. I'm a potatoes kind of girl.

Sandie said...

Ruth, Yes I am Sharon's sister Sandie. With 4 kids and a business I have no time for a blog of my own. Not creative that way anyway. it would be complaint after complaint. everyone has those so who would read it? I only have time to stop in once and a while to take a break and catch a glimps of the lifestle of you creative types once in a while.
Living in Mi all my life I had no idea that credit unions were a Michigan thing. but the golf tee's placement on your map/collage is right where Grand Blanc would be (not far from me) ...thus my thought of the Buick open. I enjoyed your collage!

Sandy said...

What a great post. I really like your collage. Definitely see some things that could be related.

How about that indian.

s

Ruth said...

Sandie, yes, you must be very busy. My brother asked me how I have time for a blog. I think those of us who want to do it just find time, pure and simple. And it's addictive, maybe Sharon told you.

Well, now you say that, I don't KNOW that credit unions are a MI-only thing, probably not. But I am pleased that I placed the golf tee where the Buick Open is!
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Sandy! Thank you. I hope you are well, and your adorable grandkids. Yes, I think my sister got that little beaded Indian princess when she went to Oklahoma decades ago. I love it.

Freefalling said...

I don't like poetry.
I've tried many times over the years, but usually it just doesn't speak to me.
Now, I know diddly squat about Michigan (except what you show me) but ...
I really loved this poem!
How weird.
It makes pictures in my mind.
AND....
I think your collage is FAB-U-LOUS!!
I thought at first you had a green kangaroo as part of it - I wasn't quite sure where you were going with that!

Bob Johnson said...

Such a great poem, "What did we do?", that is also Saskatchewans motto,lol, car keys, do you do a lot of driving? now macaroni and peas I can relate to, love em. Cool temp collage, my wife does awesome altered books, very cool, you'd love them.

Ruth said...

Letitia, well that just makes me so happy, that you loved this poem! I smile every time I read it too. Yeah, that dinosaur looks a little like a kanga, I guess, it's not the greatest photo. But hey, now you've given me the idea to make a collage of things related to blogger friends . . .

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Bob, hahaha, "what did we do" [to deserve this] eh? So you say that in Saskatoon also? Yes, I'm sorry to say I do a lot of driving, I mean I feel bad that I drive 35 minutes to work because of the gas consumption. But I love the drive through farmland.

Altered books? What's that?? Taking a book and making a scrapbook? My grandma did that. Please tell me, and if there is a blog, I wanna know!

Ginnie said...

That poem is ecstasy, Ruth. It makes me want to read everything he writes. WOW!

Ruth said...

Boots, so it tickles you too?? Hehehe, I love it. How about that about Virginia? :) I really got a kick out of him being creeped out about living in his mother again.