Despite the extent of our current dysfame, State College is not a big town. Only a few miles from the center of town, completely surrounded by highways and development, there is a small marsh, unknown even to some longtime residents. Two hills rise above the marsh. At the top of one is the hospital, or medical center as it’s now called. On the other hill stands the circular cathedral, or football stadium.
Running through the marsh is a boardwalk, and when you are on it you mostly see tall grasses, short shrubby trees, wandering streams, and birds. On Saturday, a sunny warmish afternoon, I decided to go to the marsh as a fitting place to write a poem. I had thought of writing a love poem, but I was concerned that if I only write love poetry, I will end up sounding like a schoolboy rhyming “moon” with “June”: heartfelt emotion pouring drivel down the page.
So I pushed myself to go outside the Ain’t You My Baby school of poetry. I sat on a bench by the stream, where a plethora of ducks seemed mostly content, and I waited for inspiration to come along. The poem below was entirely written while sitting on the bench, though I made a few changes after I got home.
Tattered Clumps of Grasses
Placid as a Sunday morning without children
a stream flows,
shimmering in the autumn sun.
full of knowing,
are on the water.
Their brown-headed mates,
knowing even more,
paddle about quietly
or take care of business on the bank.
A tree that has seen the distant ancestors of these ducks
arches over land and water,
like an elephant stepping carefully around flowerbeds.
Branches hang low toward the stream.
From one bending bough,
two feet above the water,
hang tattered clumps of grasses
wrapped around the bark.
On a day when the sky was heavy as angry eyes of God,
when water fell like a lake dropped off a cliff,
this peaceful stream must have raged.
No wonder we call life a river.
There are days
like this one,
of sunny peace and tranquil ducks,
when we would swear our whole life has been worth it
just for that moment.
But then the waters rise,
everything in sight thrashes into madness,
and there is not one square inch of the world around us
that is worth having.
On a day of shimmering sun
and quiet water
there is a small reminder
of the turbulence that has been here,
that it will return.
Perhaps as well,
in times of wild inundation,
we might see a small reminder
of the bright and peaceful days,
that they too will come back.