I’d not met Mitchell until recently, but, thanks to my poet-friend Elaine Sexton, I knew of his work, beginning with his exquisite poem Delicate Bait. Here’s an excerpt:
. . . That we should comeSexton, in her gorgeous way of building creative communities, included me in an e-mail to Mitchell and other poets and writers in which she generously shared a link to Wisława Szymborska and Horst Beckmann’s Hat.
and go, eating the few thousand meals,
a few hundred fish, a room full of grains,
that we should put the world in our mouths
and swallow, become the fish,
the deer, the goat, the field of wheat,
walking graveyard with no stones . . .
In the way one thing leads to another, Mitchell responded to the group and attached a poem he wrote on learning of Szymborska’s death. I wrote Mitchell to ask if I might post the poem, and, to my great delight, he said yes.
With grateful thanks to Roger Mitchell, then, here is A Toy, in full.
Even the peasants heard of Troy,
watching the centuries slip past.
A little horse on wheels,
a string to draw it by.
The city fell, but cities do that.
All over Europe, up and down the Nile.
Here an army, there an occupation
Carving little horses to sell
at the market on Senatorska.
I walked to work each morning
across the Bwonia, in between the cows
and boys in snappy uniforms
learning how to march.
Hoping you don’t mind, I put you into
my memory of that year.
Not very tall, you’ve come to the market,
partly to look at it, partly to see
what the peasants are selling this century,
you who have them all in your head.
You ask a woman in a babushka
if you can pinch the breast of the chicken
nesting on her forearm. She has her fingers
twined among its legs. Which you make note of.
You smile, the two of you caught
in dreams of some other place than this.
And yet exactly this.
© Roger Mitchell, all rights reserved. By kind permission of Roger Mitchell.
About Roger Mitchell: Roger Mitchell’s new and selected poems, Lemon Peeled the Moment Before, was published by Ausable Press (now Copper Canyon). He taught in the MFA program at Indiana University for many years, is now the Poetry Editor of Hamilton Stone Review, and lives in the Adirondacks. He is the author of ten books of poetry, a work of nonfiction, and numerous reviews and essays. More on Roger Mitchell can be found here.
Credits: The image at the head of the post can be found here. The quotation that opens the post is from Mitchell’s e-mail. The full text of Delicate Bait can be found here.