Poem: Early Spring?

We lost Bernadette Mayer in 2022. Mayer was a poet and visual artist associated with the New York School. In this poem, the speaker wonders whether all signs pointing toward an early spring are true, despite it being only February. The poem’s syntax traverses the hills and valleys of thought as the mind wanders from image to image in a stream-of-consciousness way. The title is a question, and then the body of the poem begins in lowercase and ends without punctuation, evoking an openness of thought. Only one question mark hinges the text into two halves. Commas are everywhere, just as change is everywhere, except the one thing that doesn’t change, which is the ever-presence of war. Selected by Victoria Chang

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

Early Spring?

By Bernadette Mayer

can’t find “mind of hour,” the sun’s coming out
three men stand talking at the field edge
you see, maple syrup season’s already here
maybe, at least they put the buckets up
on the trees, that is, like the delights
of roaming after, like the tree that defended
the forest, it’s only February, repeated
early springs exacerbate doubt & droughts,
if you will, plus the finches are here, how
could that be? birds can’t be wrong, meaning
is not a message or physiognomy, there was a
crescent moon right by Venus in the sky to tell us
to try Poe for once, an early spring might be
the backyard is covered with moss but in the end
it will be sooner that everybody’s snowmobile
is for sale, they can’t still be talking there
on the field edge, Bill sitting in my chair
representing calm in chaos, Phil standing seeming
to be reason & Jay shouting because he’s hard
of hearing, the whole local gang’s there, I saw
somebody walk by as if the war’s over my friend

Victoria Chang is a poet whose latest book of poems is “The Trees Witness Everything” (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her fifth book of poems, “Obit” (2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in Antioch University’s M.F.A. program. Bernadette Mayer (1945-2022) published her first book when she was 23. For many years, she lived and worked on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She was the director of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project from 1980 to 1984. This poem appears in “Milkweed Smithereens” (New Directions, 2022).

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