The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. – William Blake
You can’t write what you don’t notice. – Peter Makuck
When I was sixteen I spent ten days backpacking with the Boy Scouts in the southern Rockies. Twenty-four years later I hiked some of those same trails again with my son’s Scout troop. This time the climb over Abreu Mesa and up along the Cimarron River was punctuated by green-tailed towhees, Stellar’s jays, the sudden flame of western tanagers. Where had all those birds come from? Where were they last time I was there? The difference was the dog-eared copy of Peterson’s Guide to Western Birds in my pocket. And looking. Noticing is intentional.
On April 9 at Barton College Walking into April Peter Makuck read from his new and selected poems, Long Lens. An apt title. The poems invite us to accompany the writer during a long career as a poet. They focus for us the quotidian observations that suddenly blossom into meaning. And most of all the poems’ images bring things up close — a ladybug that reminds of leaving home; a pelican to release us from bondage; a hawk killing a squirrel on a college campus — or rather the poems bring us closer so that we can begin to notice. To notice like the poet notices.
Coming from the pool
where I’ve just done laps, letting water bring me back,
I’m already elsewhere, thinking
about Tennyson and my two o’clock class
when a squirrel appears
ten feet from the concrete walk, by an oak.
Then a loud ruffle at my shoulder,
like an umbrella unfurled, before a flash glide
makes the Redtail seem to emerge from me
and nail the squirrel with a clatter of wings –
a long scream that strips varnish from my heart
before the sound goes limp.
She presides with mantling wings
over the last twitches of gray as I
edge closer to her golden eye.
She hackles her head freathers, tightens her talons,
holds me prey to what I see, watches me
as she lifts off , rowing hard for height, the squirrel
drooped in her clutch.
Now skimming a lake
of cartops in the south lot, making for the break
between Wendy’s and Kinko’s, she swerves up
sharply to land on the roofpeak of a frat house
over on Tenth.
Some noise from the world snaps me back.
I look about, but nobody has stopped
to look at me or where she stood by the tree,
only ten feet away. Slowly released,
I move ahead with the passing student crowd,
holding fast to what I have seen.
Prey, Peter Makuck, from Long Lens: New & Selected Poems, BOA Editions Ltd., 2010
Featured at Kathryn Stripling Byer’s NC Poet Laureate Site:
Some persons seem to have opened more eyes than others, they see with such force and distinctness; their vision penetrates the tangle and obscurity where that of others fails . . . How many eyes did Thoreau open? How many did Audubon? Not outward eyes, but inward. We open another eye whenever we see beyond the first general features or outlines of things — whenever we grasp the special details and characteristic markings that this mask covers. Science confers new powers of vision. Whenever you have learned to discriminate the birds, or the plants, or the geological features of a country, it is as if new and keener eyes were added. John Burroughs