Faith Shearin is the author of three books of poetry: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), The Empty House (Word Press) and
Moving the Piano (SFA University Press). Recent work has appeared in Poetry East and The Southern Review and has been read aloud by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac. She is the recipient of awards from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives with her husband and daughter in a cabin on top of a mountain in West Virginia.
So Many Things Can Ruin a Picnic
So many things can ruin a picnic—
mosquitoes, for instance, arriving
in a gray hum or black flies or a wind
strong enough to blow napkins
over the lawn like white butterflies,
steaks stolen by dogs, unruly fire,
thunderstorms that come on suddenly,
clouds converging over a field,
where you have just unpacked
your basket. It's amazing, really,
that people have picnics at all
considering how many plates
have fallen in the dirt and how many
hot dogs have erupted in black blisters,
how many children have climbed hills
alive with poison ivy and how much ice
has melted before the drinks
were ever poured. It's amazing
how many people still want to eat
on a blanket anyway, are still willing
to take their chances, to endure
whatever may fall or bite. Either they
don't consider the odds of success
or they don't care. Some of them
must not mind the stains on their pants,
the heavy watermelon that isn't sweet
once it's carved. Some must understand
the way lightning is likely to strike
an open field. Even so—they wrap up
a few pieces of fried chicken, fold
a tablecloth until it is as small as hope.
They carry an umbrella or a jacket
that they accidentally drop on the ground
where it fills with bees. They leave
the houses they built to keep them safe
and eat uncovered, ignoring the thunder,
their egg salad growing dangerously hot.
The Ones Who Stay
There are the ones who leave and the ones who stay,
the ones who go to war and the ones
who wander the silent streets, waiting
for news. There are the ones who join the circus
or go on safari: the explorers, the astronauts,
then there are the people who never leave
their first neighborhood, their first house.
Odysseus spent years trying to come home
but Penelope never left. He was seduced
by women with islands and sung to by sirens;
he held the wind in a bottle. But Penelope
slept differently in the same bed, weaving
and unweaving the daily details while men
she did not love gathered in her kitchen.
Her face grew thinner, her son grew taller.
Is that a journey? The ones who leave
come back with stories: an excitement
in their eyes. But the ones who stay
witness little changes: dust, weather, breath.
What happens to them happens so slowly
it seems not to be happening at all.