This pinecone, found on a path near Saint Joseph's University's Bellarmine Hall, has a place of honor on my bookshelf. Why? Because it's one of those perfectly ordinary things I hardly ever think to look at closely. Early each semester, I put it in a basket along with other random items: a safety pin, a rock, a candle. I ask my students to bring in an ordinary item from their own lives, or to choose one from my basket. Then I have each of them hold the item, look closely at it, listen to it, smell and maybe even taste it. I have them write down what they discover and ask them to make a wild imaginative leap somewhere along the way.
One of the things I love most about poetry is when it seeks and finds significance in the humblest of places.
Here's a sonnet that looks at a perfectly ordinary scene, and finds the meaning and the magic therein. It's by Robert Lavett Smith, an old friend of mine from the University of New Hampshire,where he was a grad student and I was an undergrad. I've long been a fan of Bob's crystalline imagery and his ability to engage emotion without ever crossing the line into sentimentality. This poem is a perfect example of both those skills:
Starr's Oriental Rugs
“Elle est retrouvée. Quoi? — L’Éternité.”
— Arthur Rimbaud
Starr’s Oriental Rugs in Englewood, New Jersey, shimmers in my memory— A fact that borders on absurdity Since there’s no earthly reason why it should. The moment I’d return to, if I could, And choose to cherish through eternity, Shines all the more for being so ordinary: A bus stop bench rough slats of peeling wood, A warm spring night with all the trees in leaf, Dark windows, ornate carpets spread like wings. I was nineteen, ignited by belief That every fiber of awareness sings; Sure living would be glorious, and brief; Sure, in that instant, of so many things.
For more of Bob's sonnets, check out his collection, Smoke in Cold Weather.