About the Poems
by Gerry LaFemina
I love that No Tell Motel asks me to tell the readers something about these poems. Origin stories, perhaps? The sweet-nothings I had to whisper into the muse’s ear to coax these poems out?
Sometimes poets are given gifts, and in the case of “The Lost Love Letters of Cumberland” I was literally given the gift of these “letters”–folded looseleaf sheets found on the sidewalk. I still have them, too. The first versions of this poem were horrible excursions into the smugness of adulthood because the letters were vulnerable in ways most adults aren’t willing to be. It wasn’t until exploring this that the poem found its wings.... To love despite our fears, to be willing to jump in even when it’s fraught with difficulty.
“Train Whistle Far from Town, Approaching”: the title is meant to be deliberately vague–is this an ominous sound or a joyous one? I love trains. Trains are enmeshed in the American psyche and culture–they signify movement away and the limitless possibility of the next town, the next state–even the hoboes who rode the box cars: many of them were looking for a better life. But again–the trains are harbingers of both the good and the bad.
Now that I think about it, so many of the these poems are about possibility, about not giving up on the possibility of something better, something bigger. These are poems that are connected to what I’ve learned as a Buddhist–yin and yang, they co-exist. In our attempts to limit the hurts of the world, we have also limited our potential for joy. “January 1, 2008" focuses right on the new year–a poem of non-duality. The brilliant morning follows a night with sirens. A storm front looms. The goodness is in the now. In the brilliance. In the squirrel in its high-wire expertise.
In “At the Birth of the World” I say “Every morning is its own origin/ myth & some ahead then lurks another fall/ from grace.” We have to embrace possibility while simultaneously accept that failure is part of the process. The child who releases the balloon in the poem has already learned detachment, something the speaker is both striving for and is wary of.
Perhaps its this desire for detachment and fear of it that is embodied best of all in “The Formation of Puddles” at the end. The local stray is there, for the birds who have gorged on the worms. Aloof–detached–but hungry–attached. That’s the great American Buddhist dilemma, isn’t it?