“There Are Many Ways to Move Through Our Day”: A Poem by Tod Marshall
Though today is Tod Marshall’s first day as the new Washington State Poet Laureate for 2016-2018, Governor Jay Inslee couldn’t wait. Last Friday, he asked Marshall to compose a poem for the dedication ceremony of Connecting Washington, the single largest transportation investment in state history. Marshall composed and read the following at the event in Spokane, and his notes on the poem are below.
There Are Many Ways to Move Throughout Our Day
Think first of tracks—to water, to crops, even the latrine—
trails to neighbors, to shady groves along the river,
to secret berry patches, the grassiest meadows always just over
the mountains, across deep currents, the stretch of seeing:
how paths become rutted, become dirt roads, become gravel, black pavement,
whoosh of car and car, lumbering bus, swaying semi-trucks,
then wide freeways and finally airplane scribbles in the sky, the once dark
glowing with glittering satellites. Things change. Often
what’s meant gets lost in saying: space, I guess, is near. Time zips
quicker, flash of a sent text, that new highway. Words gather their heavy loads,
meaning from many directions. Perhaps, today, we can remember
those tracks toward clear water, first bridges, the secret trails to a meadow,
berry vines, and the lines that bind all of us. Sometimes, we can pick
our routes. We can choose to say connect and mean closer together.
–Tod Marshall, Washington State Poet Laureate
Notes on the poem:
I guess one way to think of any poem is as a convergence of roads, and as I worked on this poem during the week prior to the January 29th event, I thought about the passage in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, where he writes, “The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!” Walt Whitman always seems to be in my head, and I couldn’t resist a gesture that went from the “base” (latrines) to the stars—a move he often makes in his poems. Of course, while writing, I was also thinking of the literal dynamics that are commemorated by this Connecting Washington event: the roads, bridges, and public transportation routes, how people can be brought together, how life might be improved for some; I also thought that the word “connect” was important; its roots send us back to “bind” and “together.” Bind, of course, can have negative associations, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s always good to recall missteps in order to strive for something better. Lastly, I felt tremendous pressure to write a competent poem in such a short period of time—and I added to that pressure because I couldn’t get one of the greatest “occasional” poems in American literature out of my mind: Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead,” a poem from the early 60s that laments the loss of civic connection and how the civil rights movement was struggling to get traction. I tried to take Lowell’s condemnation of this disconnect in a different direction.