Time passes. I keep waking up in the cursed hours between 3 and 5 am, wracked with anxiety then, eventually, grateful for birdsong. With one dear person in my life, I joke about the occupational hazard of my poetry job which is crying at work because I loved a poem so much. This came up because I absolutely sobbed at Samin Nosrat’s lovely reading of Aracelis Girmay’s “Elegy” and needed some time to recover from that one. Y’all know I love birds and emotional bird poems, which “Elegy” is, but this message is about another occupationally hazardous section of the Poetry Foundation’s database which is our collection of Brenda Hillman’s poems, which inspired me to buy her collection Extra Hidden Life, among the Days when I was at the AWP conference some amount of time ago, simultaneously forever and yesterday, as time goes.
I found “Angrily Standing Outside in the Wind” because the title is so striking and relatable: what resident of these midwestern windswept places hasn’t angrily stood outside in some wind at some point? Then it turned out to be both hilarious (indeed, how can one “lose the self / after reading so much literary theory?”) and profound. The project of this book is an ecologically political one of grief mixed with hope: “it’s too late for countries / but it’s not too late for trees…” sums it all up to me. Borders and wars and the global political foot-dragging on the incoming climate apocalypse are a few of the things that wake me up in these cursed hours, and I know my gal Brenda’s right out there with me in these worries. And I also know that trees and dirt have wisdom I’ll never comprehend, and I try to tamp down the worry with the wonder.
As a proven sucker for a great title, I gotta say, Extra Hidden Life, among the Days totally rocks. There’s a sci-fi sound to it, as if the poems will bring you to a place where you can get a video-game power-up, a +1 to your heart-count. I think often of this line from Blade Runner, an android’s demand of his creator: “I want more life, fucker”. Everything that lives desires more life. The “extra hidden life” in the title poem is bacteria that thrive in extreme environments, but it’s also a poem that’s dedicated in the book “for CDW” - C.D. Wright, who’s mentioned in this poem as “our friend” who wrote “of those who love glass / & early freedom” in her series of “obscure lives.” The more I read of hers the more C.D. Wright is becoming maybe my actual favorite poet so the long poem/lyric essay/photo scrapbook “Her Presence will Live Beyond the Days” in Extra Hidden Life… was yet another occupational hazard I experienced: big-time weep fuel. Life and more life, through words, conversation, presence with beloved people.
Down by the river near where I live, the wild onions from which Chicago stole its name out of the Algonquin language are in their living season. Ramps are sending their tall leaves out of the soil now in glorious green clusters. Two weeks ago I walked there with my dog and the spouse from whom I’m separated (my “partner emeritus,” as they like to say) and showed them how to cut the leaves and leave the roots, so the ramps will grow back next year. They made pesto and I made chimichurri with our foraged handfuls, each in our own kitchens. This is the work of loving repair, to me: sharing space and knowledge in a different context, still with care.
There is so much to learn from plants, so much neglected wisdom. Plants transform, adapt, die back then thrive in community with animals and fungi. “Touch grass” is one of those memetic shorthand things that comes from a true place: while grass is stupid and terrible and America’s worst and biggest crop, I hope you take a moment today to touch a non-grass growing thing. Take that extra hidden life into your own and let it grow with you. I’ll be by the river, watching the birds in the trees.