Wallow in Wonder Poem 3: Wonder #779"Why Do Some People Chase Storms?"

Apr 3, 2016

Paul W. Hankins

I have to post quickly today as our family is heading for Cincinnati for an afternoon of theater and shopping (our last day of Spring Break here in southern Indiana).

For the first two days of this poetry project, I played around a bit with verse. As a poet, I have always preferred the non-structure of free verse though I do appreciate a good execution of a form now and then.

U. S. Poet Laureate, Robert Frost, once said that writing free verse is like "playing tennis without a net" suggesting that the freedom granted by the approach was celebrated over the form and seeming function of poetry as a genre. When I think of what Frost said here, I think of the men who were charged with building the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. History tells us that the men were pensive and reserved in their approach to the work as it was dangerous--deadly even. But, when nets were installed under the bridge, the supervisors actually had to watch more carefully as the men were given to leaping into the nets as a sort of play.

The idea of nets and free verse makes me wonder if inviting our younger students to take a look at free verse isn't an invitation to come and play in poetry. I've come to think of a sort of net that sits--invisibly--under each stanza written to give the poet and the piece a place to be cradled as well as to allow each to bounce a little bit safely should both their approach and intent fall from the reader.

In thinking about why people chase storms, I thought about many trips our family made to northern Michigan when I was a child. Before the age of pinpoint radar that could tell one when the first drop of rain would hit his or her sidewalk, many folks would rely upon the earnest forecasting of a weather person or a quick glance of the sky. Both can be unreliable in the midst of season and changing weather patterns, even in the short three and a half hour trip from Hastings, Michigan to Petoskey, Michigan.

In this map, you might be able to trace our family trek if you were to hold up your right hand with your palm facing you. Look at the map just below the base of your smallest finger (you'll see Grand Rapids there). Follow up the hand as if you were going to work along to the base and to the top of your ring finger. You'll eventually find Petoskey, where I was born. One of the benefits of being from Michigan is that you always have a map at your side. Navigation at the tips of your fingers.


We might set out for a trip "north" after my father work day ended. In the winter, this means driving at night--in the dark. And, as anyone from Michigan--or Indiana for that matter--could tell you, the differences in weather from south to north can vary greatly, especially in the winter season. With little resources for staying at a motel or hotel (and few to be found the further one traveled north), our family would try to move from town to town in the midst of some pretty good squalls. I marvel how we never got stuck. We were never stranded. Somehow, we always made it north despite some very frightening moments in the snow as our little red car made its way to the tip of the mitt. Here is today's poem:

"Heading Home"

If you held your home

in the palm of your hand,

you'd be aware.

How earnestly you clutched

the steering wheel,

your fingers tightening

to hold the idea of home.

Anxiously watching the road

a middle line to lead you home--

direction north and south

ditches east and west.

There are no tracks here,

the night white as a page,

mile markers guide you,

green as they are.

Each little town like a stanza,

a little room, to arrive in

only to stay for a moment

as you drive toward a poem.

Note: Sometimes, as a poet, I find drafting right on the screen very satisfying. This is a sort of invitation to let young writers take this approach sometimes. This morning's poem was drafted right on the screen with on-the-spot revisions for line length or repetition. It's not a perfect poem, but I like how it surprised me at the very end. During this National Poetry Month, I hope that you and your students experience the surprise and delight of poetry.


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