Poetry from Gretchen Rockwell

Photo: Tyler Lastovich

‘Pay Attention,’ She Says, And I Try

after Mary Oliver

I never liked nature poems, and I laughed at whoever
said I might one day learn to love the woods. Then came you
and your soft wings and scattered grasses, the redfern where you are

resting, where I am quieted despite myself. Now you’re gone. No
light is in the trees today. I find myself writing instead about matter
scattered across the stars, how gaseous giants compress diamonds, how

we are all little astronauts floating through the void in tin cans, so lonely,
and you tell me I need to pull my eyes back down and look. Look, you say, the
bark is peeling off that birch. Underneath that hole in the dirt is a whole world

full of blind baby rabbits, cozy, nestled under the front porch of the house which offers
a place to put your helmet down. Look. Mary, I can’t see it like you could, for itself.
I won’t shimmy the shed snakeskin of your voice around my neck, desperate to

keep you close. I won’t turn my eyes from the sky, no matter how beautiful your
soft hands on your dog, your warbler throat. I live in the space of my imagination;
I don’t have your skill for observation. To me every one of the bird-calls

is background. But I want to curl up at the oak leaves of your feet, to
close my eyes and let, river-like, your words batter me. I want you
to teach me how to be quiet and still, to soak in sunlight like

a stone. Maybe you already have, and I couldn’t see. The
proof: I never dreamed I would let myself fly wild.
I never dreamed I would have a reason to love the geese.



*This poem is a “Golden Shovel,” a form created by Terrance Hayes in his poem of the same name. In his poem, the end words of each line are taken from the Brooks poem “We Real Cool”; reading down the end of each line in Hayes’ poem reveals the original. Here, I’ve used a selection from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.”


Gretchen Rockwell is a queer poet and supplemental instructor of English at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI. Xer work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Glass: Poets Resist, Kissing Dynamite, Noble/Gas Qtrly, FreezeRay Poetry, the minnesota review, and elsewhere. Gretchen enjoys writing poetry about gender and sexuality, history, myth, science, space, and unusual connections.

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