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I offer up to you three observations, over the course of next few days, about our next Writer’s Studio guest: poet Thomas Lux.
Observation #1: Low culture transcends into high—often with animals
And these animals are completely beholden to humans. Specifically, to the speaker. Sometimes they are treated with grace and care, sometimes not. Either way, humor is a necessary outcome—as well as a deeper sense of our relationship not only to the animal world, but to the natural world as well. Is it man’s job to subjugate nature to our will? (Should we drill wherever we please? Do we care about animal extinction?) Or do we care about nature, because, as the old adage goes, what we do to nature we do to ourselves?
Interesting questions—ones played out on a global, and local, scale every day. Yet Lux brings it down to the small moment, the mundane—and bizarre—happening, and makes us ask a small question as a way of getting us to think about the larger questions.
Here are two examples—both hilarious and profound in their own way. “Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy” is from New and Selected Poems, published in 1997; “Toad on Golf Tee” is from God Particles, published in 2008.
You’ll note that one poem is definitely more over-the-top than the other. You may also note the reticence in the later poem: perhaps in his later work he’s begun to eschew any kind of grand epiphany in his poems. (This reticence made me snigger guiltily at the shock of what happens to the poor toad, but I love that Lux went there in such a direct, affectless way.)
First, the tarantula.
TARANTULAS ON THE LIFEBUOY
For some semitropical reason
when the rains fall
relentlessly they fall
into swimming pools, these otherwise
bright and scary
arachnids. They can swim
a little, but not for long
and they can’t climb the ladder out.
They usually drown—but
if you want their favor,
if you believe there is justice,
a reward for not loving
the death of ugly
and even dangerous (the eel, hog snake,
rats) creatures, if
you believe these things, then
you would leave a lifebuoy
or two in your swimming pool at night.
And in the morning
you would haul ashore
the huddled, hairy survivors
and escort them
back to the bush, and know,
be assured that at least these saved,
as individuals, would not turn up
in your hat, drawer,
or the tangled underworld
of your socks, and that even—
when your belief in justice
merges with your belief in dreams—
they may tell the others
in a sign language
four times as subtle
and complicated as man’s
that you are good,
that you love them,
that you would save them again.
Second, the poor toad.
TOAD ON GOLF TEE
First, I sought a toad in the rubble-filled ring
of a gone silo’s cement
foundation. Toads like to hide and hop
there. Once acquired,
I took him to a spot
just to the peachless peach tree’s left, a slightly downsloping
patch of lawn. I teed him up, sideways.
I wanted to launch him by the ribs
toward my target: a steep barn roof
forty yards away, over a driveway,
a rock garden, over more gravel
and a short swatch of bad grass.
For this I’d use a nine iron: I needed a lift,
and if the toad landed where I wanted him to land
(just short of the roof’s peak),
then he would roll back down: reusable, reteeable toad.
My short game was good.
The weathervane’s rooster said the wind was right.
The sound—for I kept my backswing slow
and my eye on the toad—fired
to my face: thwuuump!
It was a perfect pitch shot: he dropped inches from the top,
rolled a few turns earthward,
It took a week
and a little rain
before his disarticulated bones
slid down the sharp slope
and landed in the little valley of stones
the rain excavates
when it falls, too, from the eaves.
Perhaps I’ll ask him about this toad, and these tarantulas, at the upcoming Writer’s Studio, on May 5.