- The Life, Deer Hunting in Rain, Ties, Chalk, and Threads, End of Another Day
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[End Page 165]
"What you notice becomes your life," writes Michael Chitwood, in the last line of the last poem in his magnificent book The Weave Room (1998). What he has noticed, so sharply and for so long—in eight collections of poetry, in two books of essays, and as the first and only poetry editor of Southern Cultures, for the past sixteen years—is, in fact, life, everyday life, the details of the life we everyday humans live and share, particularly in this region of the country and in the Virginia mountains of his upbringing. In all of Chitwood's work, he pays attention to things too often or too easily overlooked, holding them up as worthy of noticing and appreciating: the threads clinging to mill workers as they finish their shift, the left- over dirt at a graveside, a stick of chalk, "The Small- Town Voice of God" at a Friday night football game, coins at the bottom of a swimming pool, and even "The Seagulls of Wal-
Mart." He relishes "a new day's clean slate" and the opportunity to convert that day's details into vivid, original, playful, thoughtful words, ones that sound just right in the mouth and the ear and the mind.
I love loaning Chitwood books to my poetry- writing students, especially the ones who need to learn that poems are not about being over- clever or pseudo- artfully vague or willfully difficult: he shows them the power of clear diction and sense- rich imagery and familiar subject matter seen in a fresh way. He writes especially well about work, its sweat and strain but also the value and nobility of manual labor, which is not limited to electricians and masons and carpenters: "You, who do not have tackle," he says, "take in hand such handle as you have. / Feel the polish of its grip, its balance / in that plumb moment before work begins." I see Brother Chitwood himself in that perpendicular moment, "one callus on the second finger / where the pen rides," that pen the tool of this quietly artful writer and teacher and editor.
I've known Mike (as I call him, at least partly so we aren't both Michaels from the mountains who write and teach and edit) for thirty years now. It was a very lucky day when we started exchanging poems with each other for written comment, his keen eye patiently improving my work—really, I should dedicate every book to him. It was also a mighty lucky day when he signed on with Southern Cultures, selecting (from his wide reading of contemporary poetry, and sometimes from submissions) just the right poem to conclude each issue and its theme. I always look forward to "Mason–Dixon Lines," a satisfying poetic benediction after the preceding prose, and it pleases me to present a few of Mike's own poems, as he steps away from his longtime role as poetry editor. It's a way of saying, on behalf of all us readers: Thank you, sir, for such faithful service to the word.
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To bethe tick latched to a bat,
little leech,supping and soaring
on those crazed radarzigs and zags
and then when fullto release and sail
like a wind-borneseed, settling lightly
in the leaf littercushioned
by the fatof flight and blood.
Deer Hunting in Rain
The sky is in the understory.I'm sitting in my stand, soaked Zen.
A minor god keeps tapping his fingeron my hat. You. You. You.
If one comes,I'm one with the idea
of killing it. It will maketwo dozen meals to be thankful
over. I've achievedthe fifth level of wetness,
my coveralls darkenedlike the trees' bark.
This baptism has takenall morning, but I'm
totally immersed.Nothing arrives. Then spooks. [End Page 167]
Uncles worked pocket knivesto rake the grease of work...