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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Number 12: Stanly Plumly "Still Missing the Jays"

Still Missing the Jays

Then this afternoon, in the anonymous
winter hedge, I saw one. I'd just climbed,
in my sixty-year-old body—with its heart
attacks, kidney stones, torn Achilles tendon,
vague promises of ulcers, various subtle,
several visible permanent scars, ghost-
gray hair, long nights and longer silences,

impotence and liver spots, evident
translucence, sometime short-term memory loss—
I'd just climbed out of the car and there
it was, eye-level, looking at me, young,
bare blue, the crest and marking jewelry
penciled in, smaller than it would be
if it lasted but large enough to show
the dark adult and make its queedle
and complaint. It seemed to wait for me,
watching in that superciliary way
birds watch too. So I took it as a sign,
part spring, part survival. I hadn't seen a jay
in years—I'd almost forgotten they existed.
Such obvious, quarrelsome, vivid birds
that turn the air around them crystalline.
Such crows, such ravens, such magpies!
Such bristling in the spyglass of the sun.
Yet this one, new in the world,
softer, plainer, curious. I tried
to match its patience, not to move,
though when it disappeared to higher ground,
I had the thought that if I opened up my hand—

---Stanley Plumly

Hap Notes: Stanley Plumly (born 1939) has a a way of discerning messages about life from the observance of the natural world in his daily life. We should probably all be doing this but not all of us should be writing poetry. Luckily, Plumly is. His style is natural but not ever datedly vernacular and is intelligent without being effete or condescending.

Plumly is Poet Laureate for the state of Maryland, he teaches English at the University of Maryland and his current book is a highly acclaimed biography of Keats, Posthumous Keats. He was born and raised in Ohio and his poetry often deals with his upbringing, his experiences as a youth, his relationship to his parents and the flora and fauna he grew up around and lives around now.

This poem reads very well on the surface, like I think a good poem should (that's just my two cents), but digging deeper will yield a few diamonds.

I think that cheeky jay stands for something- that young curious "supercilious" creature. How many of us are/were like that in our youth? Now look at the phrase "...I just climbed,/in my sixty year old body." The comma directs us to his list of aging woes but, remove the comma just for a moment. Aging often feels like you've recently climbed into a different body (oh, believe me it does!) The jay may mean, he says, survival and spring but implicit in this is youth. The poet says he'd almost forgotten about jays (the way he was when younger.) I'm not saying you can't take the phrase literally, I'm just throwing out some bread crumbs here.

He has a bright incisive way of describing the intelligent, quarrelsome Corvidae (the list of birds) family and it does seem as though a jay's cry makes the air clearer, shattering it like glass with their insistent voices. They are a marvel to look at, too. The one in the poem is large enough to show the "dark" adult but is still "softer" and "plainer." Now look at the title of the poem. Another couple of bread crumbs.

This poem is almost perfect in describing a very intimate and telling moment with nature. Haven't you ever wanted to hold your hand out to a wild bird? (And just as a trivial and silly aside; in the picture above Plumly just looks like a poet, doesn't he? Not the blue one, the black and white picture, although, now that I think on it, maybe the blue one does too.)

Heres a good Plumly quote on writing poetry: "Being able to speak with a certain amount of clarity what's in your mind and in your heart seems to me to be inseparable from having a happy life."

You can find more Plumly poetry here:

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