Emily Dickinson’s “I Dwell in Possibility–” because you think you know a poem and then read it after not seeing it for a while and you are surprised by the breeze across the field and the bright light from above that isn’t as hot as you expect or deserve. You are saved. You are not the 97 degrees.
Beth Weaver-Kreider’s “Pebbles” because when you went to the beach you ran into the water on its rougher days, harbingers of the hurricane approaching you might say later though earlier you hadn’t seen weather reports and the storm might not have been responsible at all, and waves threw you down as if to throw you out and filled your trunk pockets with pebbles and their shell cousins and sand, ground like the waves sought to grind you, you big-footed interloping beast. But you love them anyway.
Maxine W. Kumin’s “Together” because this poem tells the rest of the fantasia above, after the waves win over you but your story doesn’t end. Why should it? “The water closing / over us and the / going down is all. / Gills are given. / We convert in a / town of broken hulls / and green doubloons.” And it turns out your story is a love story. Did you know?
Ron Padgett’s “The Love Cook” because short and simple is how love sometimes is when you’re not smashing about in the ocean and if you don’t allow yourself the time or deletion of pretense or vantage points, then you have some thinking to do. Or not some thinking. Or some not-thinking. Forget where you were. You have serious not-thinking to do.
Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” because when you initiate your not-thinking, when you’ve disposed of your vantage point and the horizon itself vanishes, you begin to work from the inside out and love is not an activity nor an observation but the first fire of yourself and then you have choices about what to do with yourself but fire can do most anything.
Stacie Cassarino’s “Summer Solstice” because a question like “Where is the evidence I will learn / to be good at loving?” is a surprisingly good one for the longest day of the year, in which we realize more than the rest of them that we can never take full advantage of the day, 100% advantage, every-minute-of-sunlight advantage. The poem gives lines destined for a wall-hanging, e.g., “I am visiting my life with reckless plenitude.” But the previous line is “We measure the isopleths.” Screw you, wall-hanging!
(The word turns out to be perfect.)
David Mason’s “In the Mushroom Summer” because “the ineffectual panic of a squirrel” is not only my favorite line of the summer (maybe!) but also a very silly way to set up sadness and removal of sadness, which is cool.
Hailey Leithauser’s “Bad Sheep” because summer is not all sunny days and prat-falling squirrels and balanced examinations of self. Summer is also the worst. Like you. You are the worst, and there’s nothing you can about it until the poem ends or the day gives up. Tomorrow you can be the best. But today you are stuck with yourself and the day til it ends, unrelenting heat not enticed by your offer of ice cream or air-conditioning or water.
Gwendolyn Brooks’ “truth” because it is too easy to think summer is just about summer. The seasons distill us in ways the days do not. The poem is about race and privilege, and no American summer is without either.
Linda Pastan’s “Eyes Only” because Pastan begins her poem, “Dear lost sharer / of silences” and no poem has hooked me so deeply this summer. I want to write you nearly every hour of the day and only infrequently find words, not specifically the right words, just words at all. I wish we shared the silences as Pastan means, with sharing in all its definitional splendor. Too often silence shares us, and words we churn for work beat their wings into numbing and injurious hums. I have higher expectations of summer.