(This is a post about a poem, and these are some of its lines:)
No. It’s not a poem about a cat, although here at the beginning one might think it is. But with poetry– as with so much else– you have to give it a minute. Wait it out some. There’s more coming.
See? No more cat.
Some people don’t like poetry– or they don’t think they do.
But that’s not you, is it? You like poetry. You do. I mean, you like a party just as much as the next person. You can do loud and noisy, no problem. But you don’t judge. You like quiet people, for example. You’re willing to sit a minute and listen and then find out that the quiet person has something to say.
Poems are quiet. Mostly. And you like them.
This is a quiet poem, anyway. See:
A poem, like– somewhat– a person, is an invitation to see something in a new way. And here, the poet is inviting you with her out onto her back porch. She wants to show you something.
This is just the beginning of the poem. And what– so far– does she want you to see? You can answer that: dusk. The cat and her food. The way the light leaves the sky and the stars begin to come out, those “pinpricks of light” that match, without the poet saying so, the star-shaped food she just a moment ago poured into her cat’s bowl.
She gives us more:
Ah, you say. I see, you say. Because you, too, have done this– whether or not you have a cat. You have stepped outside late in the day, when the light is going but still held there by a bit of cloud. “A rag of cloud,” she says. How apt. You have definitely seen clouds like that before. You have stepped outside late in the day, just in time to see that day fading, to know that all of it will soon be closed up in the dark.
And now, reading this poem (and because our poet is a good one), you are standing on the back porch with the poet. And with me. We are all three standing on the back porch, and we are each of us alone. Except (perhaps?) for the cat.
It’s quiet out here. The light drains away but is held by cloud, by moon. The stars are coming out.
The poet says,
This is going to be important.
Who is in the house behind you? Whom have you left inside? Are there people who love you and know (or don’t) that you have stepped outside for just a minute to pet the cat, say, or look at the moon? Is someone who loves you inside the house and looking at her phone or reading the paper?
Or maybe you live alone. Or with people who don’t love you. Or with people whom you don’t love. If so, it’s okay: this poem is (also) for you, because anything (everything) can be a metaphor. Stay with me. Our poet has more to say, and so do I.
“Everything is just as I’ve left it,” she says. There’s stillness here, both inside and out. We’ve seen it outside already: the cloud, the faintest stars, the moon. No sign of breeze. Even the cat has disappeared.
But inside, too, everything is just as she’s left it. And how has she left it? At the edge of ready. Her daughter makes biscuits, the soup is done. It’s time for this family’s supper, just as it was for the cat. Everything inside that house is quiet, waiting for the poet’s return.
And here you stand, I stand, on the this otherwise empty porch. The world is silent, waiting for night. And behind us, what is waiting? Who– or what– is waiting for you?
Maybe your dog waits, curled in his bed. Your phone? Your supper. A bowl of peaches on the kitchen table. Your email. A project you have to return to, that has taken too much time already, that you cannot wait to finish but abandoned just for this moment to read this blog post, this poem, to step out onto your back porch and watch nighttime overtake the world.
Here, the poet stands (we stand) on the porch, and the world– inside and out– waits.
This is a poem about love. And, I believe, about contentment.
Our poet stands here on her back porch, and what waits for her inside “are those who love me,” she says. Yet she “wants to stay on the back porch….”
And I’m asking you: do you want to stay on the back porch, too?
You have things waiting inside for you, just like I do. Maybe they are people who love you, and maybe not: but they are what has been given to you and, for the sake of this poem, this conversation, they are the things you love.
In my reading, the poem here asks, Are they enough? When you are standing out there and the world is somehow both dusky and radiant, are those metaphorical persons and things– the things you have been given– enough to compel you inside? Or are you– like me– sometimes tempted to the edge of the porch, to the steps, to the cold, damp grass and the woods that line the yard? To the promise of the unknown and different, the new and exciting, the adventure that might look like love but cannot be love, because “inside my house are those who love me” and inside the house is “what I love.”
Maybe that’s a metaphor for another poem. Or is it?
Here’s what I’ve learned and am learning: love calls me in. It’s mine to choose, to turn my back on beautiful moon and rag of cloud, to lawn and woods, to new and different. To go back inside.
Love returns to love again and again. That’s how it lasts.
Poem by Dorianne Laux
Laux, Dorianne. “On the Back Porch.” 365 Poems for Every Occasion, The American Academy of Poets, 2015, 236.