When a Poem Wears Muddy Boots
by James Ciletti
2010-12 Pikes Peak Poet Laureate
A true poem stomps in wearing boots caked with
Mud from planting garlic, throbs with a splinter
Under its fingernail, and wakes in the middle
Of the night with leg cramps and dreams of flying.
A true poem drips with the red of sunfire in the mist,
At that magical moment when, facing the sunrise,
That split second, when no one can kill anyone.
The cleavage of a true poem sprouts
Zucchini blossoms, cooks broccoli soup with
Cream and butter and serves crusty warm bread.
Sometimes a true poem yanks a fishhook through
Your eyelids, gives you bloodshot traffic lights for eyes.
Yes. The really true poem cheers for Afghan girls
Going back to school; it cries for their mothers beaten
In the streets; its fingertips bleed with frostbite from the
Snow of Sarajevo, red with blood of
Sled-riding children dismembered by man-made bombs.
Beware of the fish swimming between your legs.
Beware of this poem.
Beware of the fox sitting on the lawn.
Beware! The morning dove coos; your breasts are
Warm from sleeping on them. Watch out! Beware!
A true poem is a warrior with a shield of paper, and
Wears a hunting vest with pens, pencils, and
Crayons filling bullet tubes. A true poem salutes you,
Smells flowers, kisses babies, then takes off its boots
Before entering the house and making love with you.
If this poem be true its bare feet
Are caked with mud and blood from
Earth and man-kind and children-kind and a
Million kernels of red rice falling from its eyes and
Pumpkin flowers blossoming out of its mouth.
This poem kneels to kiss the earth and
Sunfire on your lips.
When the poem is true the words sneak out at night to
Swirl with moths around the street light. At the
Crack of dawn the poem staggers home with
Wrinkled wings, a swollen face, and black eyes.
Sometimes a poem deserves a speeding ticket
For driving too slowly; other times a fine for driving
Faster than the speed of life.
Now the traffic light turns red.
Yet, the poem sips coffee, awaits sunrise. The dark
Blue sky clings to silver vest buttons of night.
Sometimes the true poem goes to bed hungry,
Growls, and dreams with owls and children, then
Shivers in the cold. Even in the chilly dark
This poem sees its own breath.
The scent of rosemary chicken fills the kitchen. Fresh
Bread rises in the oven, and if you walk away hungry.
Don’t blame this poem. There’s enough chicken and
Bread for everyone.
This poem hears babies sleeping with chirping
Crickets on the plains of Africa. So this poem holds
Hands with widowers in Chiapas, and sings a requiem for
All the sailors and soldiers at the bottom of the sea.
Hey! We cannot cry forever.
Sooner or later we throw down our tears, pick up
Our shovels, and spade the garden until
The “plow down sillion” shines and
We set aside the wee “Mousie’s” nest.
At the crack of dawn, we cannot shoot anyone.
All trees are black, but white in our mind. All the
Streetlights shine on dark waters. At the crack of dawn,
The pigeons are black on electric lines, and
Our toast and coffee pass through wires in their feet.
Yes, the poet is a high-wire walker. Like the
Pigeons on the electric wires, the poet too, is an
Electrician. With both hands he or she picks up
The hot wires and sparks them together and on any day
Or night you can see the poet
Glowing in the dark, frazzled in the light.
Sometimes the poet is a heart surgeon. But don’t expect
This poem to kiss your breasts nor make you swoon.
Expect, yes, demand that the poem slip out of its
Skin and bones, tap you on the shoulder, make you
Turn around and place your hands on hot wires,
Zap you, and then laugh at you when you cry.
Yes, a good poem slaps your face and says,
“Snap out of it!” And you say,
“Thank you! Do that again.”
Let’s face it, a good poem anoints you
With your own blood. Makes you kneel down and
Confess your sins as the hot wires pass
Through your fingertips to God.
Beware of poems in white shirts and professorial robes,
that way madness lies, helium-filled ideas,
knocked free of mud, rising so high they burst.
Beware even more of what drips from
The colander of your brain.
By now you know the really good poems
The ones you can pick up, shine ‘em red
On your sleeve, bite into them,
Crunch your teeth into the white pulp,
Feel the juices running down your chin.
Above all, remember, the best poems don’t give you gas.
The best poems wear muddy boots, smell of garlic,
Taste like kisses and smack you with ecstasy.
Note: “Sheer plod makes plough down sillion/Shine” is from “The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Mousie” is from “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns