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“There Are Many Ways to Move Through Our Day”: A Poem by Tod Marshall

“Sometimes, we can pick our routes / We can choose to say connect and mean closer together.”

  • February 1, 2016
  • |
  • Poetry
  • |
  • 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.

2 thoughts on ““There Are Many Ways to Move Through Our Day”: A Poem by Tod Marshall”

  1. Connie Walker says:

    Congratulations, Tod, on becoming our new poel laureate!
    It’s a well deserved honor, and the new poem is wonderful!

    1

  2. ML Haskell says:

    I was drawn to this wonderful verse through a hiccup of Facebook. Thank you! And congratulations on your new post with the State of Washington!

    Based on what I’ve read so far, you more than deserve it. Bravo!

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