Bill Stafford would never claim perfection,
the neat round number. Rather, he was about
edges, observation, lingering doubt,
the stuff of happenstance and reflection,
ease and mystery. He’d ask sly questions,
answer with a slight shrug or nod. No shouts.
Lines might include mountain, wind, button, trout,
family. He was without pretension.
If he were still alive at one hundred,
I’d guess him still alert, sturdy enough
to jot a few dozen early morning words.
To acknowledge the day, he might have said, For the sky, a century’s not so tough. Then he’d take pen, write of cloud, weather, bird.
Sestina for William Stafford
Of course, the trick to poetry
is to have pen and paper. Words
on a page will make song—
the words can’t help themselves. Plain
ones say it better, or so I was taught
by a man born and raised in Kansas,
who took plain Kansas
with him in the poetry
he later wrote. His parents taught
him to honor both land and words.
That wasn’t so hard on the plains
where the grass made an easy song
for a boy who listened well, for song
sang everywhere first in Kansas
and then beyond. The plains
later became mountain and coast. Poetry
didn’t mind. The words
spilled their magic, taught
him music, taught
him, yes, writing was his song,
that he could scribble gray words,
not just shiny red ones. Kansas
was good enough—and poetry
would nod its head. Simple and plain
it was (though simple and plain
could be profound). Poetry taught
him, too, to question poetry
and reinvent song,
which made for a Kansas
that he filled with words
like sky, sun, wind. Words
that started on the plains—
transported him to Oregon, and taught
him to be. His enduring song:
have pen, paper, and make poetry—
there are only words. He taught
that plain and true made real song.
A Kansas man. His avocation: poetry.
Ken Waldman is a writer with 11 books and a fiddler with nine CDs. Also a band leader and educator, since 1995 he’s often toured as Alaska’s Fiddling Poet. More at kenwaldman.com (and trumpsonnets.com). The poems here are from a manuscript to be published by Mezcalita Press.