One of the many texts I read this semester was a collection of poetry by Layli Long Soldier. She is an Oglala Lakota woman and her poetry centers on the history of her people. My instructor, a poet herself, describes this collection succinctly. She writes that Soldier's poems "take place out of doors, and they focus keenly on historical intersections between humans and the landscape. In many of her poems, the line between the human landscape under our skins and the landscape we see through our eyes is blurred; that border is crossed again and again." What could be more reminiscent of the body as a planet and the planet as a body?
After reading the assigned pieces from this collection, my instructor asked me to write a poem in this style. She asked me to capture a moment I've never been able to adequately describe. I chose to write about the nagging sensation I get when someone asks me how I'm doing in passing. I personally find it ridiculous to ask someone a question you have no intention of hearing an answer to. Why do we perform this small talk ritual? Why ask a question if you aren't interested in a genuine answer?
I wrote the poem at Nationals, at a time when I was deeply feeling the value of genuine connection. I think that in our daily lives it's important to look at our intentions and interactions and ask if we are building relationships or simply asking impossible questions. I thought I would share the poem as a dialogue on this idea.
How are you? is such an impossible question
it is as if we all want to be like the aspen grove,
passing water to one another like children
but no one wants to feel the way an aspen feels,
not really, anyway
that kind of rooted comradery requires more than surface portraits, rippled mirrors
I wish I could tell you, when you ask
I am the clementine, eaten with childlike focus and care
I am the rosemary warble of remembering, that jubilant reverie
I am the swan-like chill of snow, floating, softening, muffling, feathering
I am that cedar smell, that juniper dance, that evergreen sky
I am the spider's lace, dew drops casting crystal fractals on silver netting
So when you ask me, how are you?
I'll respond with some half true platitude
because we are not aspen trees
and we ask impossible questions without really wanting to hear the answers