How to Read a Poem

Though I’m sure you already know how. I’m sorry no one ever explained it plainly.

You do it when you look into the face of a baby.

And try to glimpse which parent is looking back at you most at this time in its life. You look up at dad, down at baby, close at baby, then back up at dad, and you say, oh yes, I can see you in his eyes. He has your eyes. And dad says, oh I’m not the biological father. And you’re a little harrumphed, but mildly, because you’re staring into faces, and you misplaced the features for all the love and innocence draped like a veil over them.

You got it. There is no way not to get it. If you looked into the baby’s face and tried to see something other than two eyes, a nose and goofy dripping wet crooked, tooth-dotted smile, you got it.

There. See. You know how to read a poem.

Look as deeply into the words as you possibly can, and try to figure out what, when, why, where, who all they’re related to. Look up at the other proud faces in the room. Whose eyes are tumbling around in the moonface of this oblivious child. This work of art. This little poem that made its way out into the world and is learning how to play with other poems and put away its poetic devices and how to edit after injury and chew up break fast language so baby doesn’t turn blue with little apple skinned words lingering in its throat.

You read the words. Take them in. I mean, the words are there. A baby is a baby. Nothing necessarily special, or out of the ordinary. That is not how to read a poem. To read a poem you look up, out, in from the words, and you start asking questions. Paint a picture. Tell your own story, with or without validation, or concern over rightness or wrongness. To read a poem is to make a connection. A fragile kernel of cuteness or repugnance or solemn reverence, I don’t know your baby, I just know they come from somewhere. They carry stories in their eyes, while they stockpile them in their minds, and they don’t know, they try, experiment, selectively remember and wholeheartedly forget and forgive and hold grudges and bury their blocks in dirty laundry.

There is no ugly baby. No child unworthy of this sort of consideration.
And if you think there is, you don’t know how to read poetry.

And how could you? You’ve forgotten. You let go of the sapling deep down inside the core of you. You’re playing make believe in the worst and most caustic manner. Pretending life is boring and predictable and though you find yourself entirely incapable of producing a single unique creative informative without sacrificing being entertaining thought, you can look down and grimace at other people’s children. Tell yourself you’re better off without a flimsy, fickle, time demanding habit like poetry tagging along after your life.

You would rather tell yourself a thousand untrue things than be told.

You look into the eyes of a child. You see no one else but yourself.
You look up into wet proud eyes of a parent. You see no one but yourself.

And you admit it out loud to the world.

“I don’t get it.”

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