Features, Poems

Kevin Craft: “New Volunteer at the Art Museum”

This month we feature Kevin Craft’s “New Volunteer at the Art Museum,” exclusive to Poetry Northwest Online. For the past few months we have been using this space to highlight poems from the current issue. This month we begin our new series of poems by Northwest poets exclusive to this site. We will be running this feature three times a year and begin the series with “New Volunteer at the Art Museum.”

Of his poem, he writes, “Often, to begin a poem, I go for a walk. One of the most difficult things for me about writing is sitting still long enough to get it done. So I go for a walk instead. Walking, I take a notebook. I take in the world at eye and ear level, at the speed of light through molasses. Did I say molasses? I meant my glasses. Anyway – yes, a walk, pleasantly distracted by the things of this world, made wind, made sound, made light. On this particular walk I wandered into Volunteer Park, one of Seattle’s oldest and grandest, not far from my home. Big trees shedding leaves in October. Art Museum. Conservatory. Dogs. I began to think like a Volunteer. I began taking instruction, taking dictation, putting things together like an archaeologist reassembling a shattered ceramic, an important and precarious find. I took many quick notes, many of which never left my notebook. The poem came together when I heard one particular, special voice calling those that did out of the near future tense.”

New Volunteer at the Art Museum

One could hold up a leaf as a fine example of yellow’s
exacting workmanship.

The world goes about its business thus
and thus, I watch another hour chase

frisbees in the park. I say miniature
where you say confide. The clouds come

loping and we lower our voices, as in greenhouses
where it seems like the deserts of the world

will go on expanding. Who doesn’t love
a jade pagoda, a cactus wren? But on the edge

of a yellow dish I’m mystified. Ungainly,
shapely, the shadows of camels accumulate mass

beneath the shadows of gilded crows.
Behind closed doors, a gallery of Buddhas

goes on smiling. I know that if I grab your hand,
the Song Dynasty period will begin again.

*****

Kevin Craft lives in Seattle, and teaches writing and literature at Everett Community College and the University of Washington’s Rome Center. His first book of poems, Solar Prominence, was published in 2005.

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