As any parent knows, you don’t play favorites among your kids. You can HAVE a favorite, of course, but you take that scandalous secret to your grave. If you have a toothpick of common sense, that is.
For your children, circumspection is clearly called for, but what about your poems? Publish a book and people will inevitably ask, “So, which one is your favorite poem in the entire collection?” Sharing this knowledge will lead people to flip to that page and read that poem, so you hedge. What if they don’t like what you have crowned “the best” and think it’s so-so? They will assume the rest of the book is so much poetically-licensed garbage (see Jersey Turnpike, Exit 157), that’s what.
OK. Maybe I exaggerate. Slightly. In fact, although I’d rather know what my readers’ favorite poems are (which I don’t ask because it presumes they’ve read the book cover-to-cover–a healthy presumption), I will admit here that I do have favorites (plural, thank you). Having more than one is safer (the old “safety in numbers” adage). One of them is the second poem in the collection, “Barnstorming the Universe,” which first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Off the Coast, that estimable poetry journal from Maine.
Why do I like this poem so much? It’s playful. And it harbors a story (but then, most poems do, kind of like the “surprise inside” you expect from a box of Cracker Jacks). Here’s the poem. Ostensibly it’s about an old leaning barn in Maine. Ostensibly.
“Barnstorming the Universe”
The big barn must have landed
overnight, the jolt of its descent
crippling one side so the whole
structure leans south. The white
paint, curly from reentry, looks
foolish as a washed cat.
The roof, too, shows evidence
of atmospheric stress, the mottled
landscape of its green top—tar
paper from missing shingles
probably scattered from Pittsburgh
to Poughkeepsie—having the look
of some moody old bass lurking
in the shallows, scales flaked and
grated at the speed of light.
Incredibly, atop the cupola, a rusted
and outraged weathercock still claws
the ridge. His wattle and comb hang
sideways, one eye searching for
intergalactic beetles, black-backed
fugitives from Andromeda or the
Crab Nebula. A sliding door is ajar,
exhaling the stench of stardust,
of Saturnine ring particulate, of dead
Martians matted on rotted hay.
In the side window, a single shard
of glass clings to the sash. If only
the barn could speak of the yawning
silences, of the teeming nothingness
that peered inside as it hurtled
its way home to this Maine field.
–Ken Craft, The Indifferent World (Future Cycle Press, 2016)
In the summer, I run 5-8 miles most every morning, and when I do, I pass this barn on the top of Mayberry Hill. It is, in fact, nowhere near as bad as this poem says it is, but the roof! The roof was the image that inspired this poem. Some shingles are there and others are missing, giving it a mottled green and black look and reminding me of the scales on an old fish that has been through the wars. Atop that roof is a tilting weathercock which no longer abides by orders, the wind’s or God’s.
From those two visuals, I imagined a leaning, disheveled barn that landed overnight in the middle of a Maine field–a barn that had witnessed things that NASA’s astronauts had not even seen.
Barns with a history like that belong on the endangered structures list. I don’t care what condition they’re in. Thus we get the shingles “scattered from Pittsburgh/to Poughkeepsie,” the “rusted/and outraged weathercock” clawing the ridge, and–my favorite–the “stench of stardust,/of Saturnine ring particulate, of dead/Martians matted on rotted hay.”
If you’ve ever wondered how runners pass the time as they jog along country roads, wonder no more! Their bodies may be on automatic pilot, but their minds? God only knows. Some planet the Starship Enterprise sailed past, maybe. All the poet has to do is make his entry in the Captain’s log when he gets home and downs his chocolate milk. Sometimes that leads to favorite poems, even.
Just don’t tell anyone. Because it’s only one of them. Honest.