Robin Chapman: “Tethering Words”


—“One should avoid fungus in poetry, as a rule.”

Rat, in Return to the Willows by Jacqueline Kelly

First was the scent of dirt, damp clay,
then the honeysuckle-drenched taste
of nectar pulled from the blossoms—
the single drop on a small green knob

later the briar-patched path rising over
the hill, a zigzag way to take to school
where we shaped our mouths
to oohs and ahs, drilling vowels

home to the rising heat of summer
and always clouds, piling up
like mushrooms, thunderheads—
nimbocumulus in the book of words

all the butterflies rising higher
as we chased them down
and the sounds of stories
rising all around, Rat and Mole

and small lights bobbing briefly
in the grass, the trees whose leaves
were opposite or alternate? the guide
taught us to ask, toothed or smooth?

a way to question our way
to the name of what brought shade
in the great catalogues of names
stored in the bookcase,

falling in love with words
tethering the world rising
like a balloon by the riverbank
to the shapes our mouths made.

Robin Chapman is the author of ten books of poetry, including Six True Things, which received the Wisconsin Library Association’s 2017 Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award, and The Only Home We Know (Tebot Bach, 2019). She is recipient of the 2010 Helen Howe Poetry Award from Appalachia. Her poems have appeared recently in Alaska Quarterly Review, About Place Journal, Terrain, and Unearthed.

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