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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Number 70: Jimmy Carter "Light Comes in Turkey Country"

Light Comes in Turkey Country

I know the forest on my farm
best at breaking day
when birdcalls seem to draw
the darkness back
that cages me.
The dim tree limbs
fragment the barely luminescent sky,
a metronomic whippoorwill
wakes the distant, lonely doves,
strangely wary when they call,
the ground and saplings come in view,
the pileated's crazy cry
is punctuated by its hammer blows on wood
and a barred owl wants to know
who cooks for me.
Distance takes the jagged edges off
the crows' more raucous sound
and then perhaps, perhaps,
a far-off gobbler's piercing call
ends all that reverie.
I move that way, very carefully.
I hardly breathe, and move that way.

-- Jimmy Carter

Hap Notes: Whaaaat? You mean Jimmy Carter (born 1924), former president of the U.S.? Yep. That's the one. The reason I include this poem in "Great Backyard Birdcount Week" ( ) is because he made history by being the one of the few U.S. Presidents to publish a book of his own poetry (Lincoln and John Quincy Adams did it too. I've never seen them but Carter said they did and I believe him.) Vanity press, maybe... are the poems good? Let's say they are not embarrassing. They reveal man with solid observation skills and thoughtfulness. And this poem, and most of his poetry, is not bad, I think. He was a gifted student and has been an avid reader since his youth.

"Who cooks for you?" is the phrase often used to explain what the barred owl sounds like. Sound far fetched? Here it is, what do you think it sounds like? : . This is a great video because you see this owl's amazing face.

Carter's poem has the light gradually lifting, the birds calling and his reverent silence amidst all this magical bird talk. He is being released from the "darkness that cages" him. I think it's a good poem. I love the description of the distance taking the "jagged edges" off of the crows' call. He's a farmer who knows his land.

Published in 1994, Carter's poetry book, Always a Reckoning, is illustrated by one of his granddaughters, Sarah Elizabeth Chuldenko. Carter was the first president, by the by, to write a book for junior and senior high school students, Talking Peace. Carter said he wooed his wife Rosalyn by writing poetry to her. Some of the profits from his books always go to charitable causes. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Might be nice to have a few more poet-presidents?

Here's a good Jimmy Carter quote on his love poetry to Rosalyn: "I don't know if today I'd call them art, but at least they did the job at the time."

You can find another Carter poem here:

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