Poetry Moment: 'Interference' by Kimi Cunningham Grant
Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.
This episode’s poem is “Interference” by Kimi Cunningham Grant.
Kimi Cunningham Grant is the author of three books, including Silver Like Dust, a memoir that chronicles her Japanese American grandparents and their internment during World War II, and two novels, Fallen Mountains and These Silent Woods, both of which are set in the wild spaces of Pennsylvania. She is a two-time winner of a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Prize in Poetry and a recipient of a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship. She grew up roaming the woods behind her parents’ house in Huntingdon, and she continues to roam the Pennsylvania woods with her husband, sons, and golden retriever.
Alfred Lord Tennyson famously wrote of nature that it was “red in tooth and claw.” We, of course, are nature, too, and are faced with the question of how to behave mercifully. In today’s poem, an encounter with a suffering deer causes the poet to recall and consider a similar encounter with a man. She asks what is the right course of action, what is the most merciful and compassionate act, and what will be remembered? There is no resolution in the poem, no easy or simple answer given, and because of that the two stories stay with us long after the poem has ended.
In March, two Eastern Bluebirds, balanced in an autumn olive
Near the carcass of a deer you shot months back. The flesh now gone
And the ribs stretching upward like the belly of a boat.
Last November, that deer had come to you in the woods. Stumbled
Through a grotto of jack pines further up the hill. Gangrenous.
Its breaths heavy and white and the whole thing as dizzying as a dream.
You ran back to the house and asked what to do.
Grabbed a rifle and snapped a bullet into the clip. Minutes later,
A shot. We’d put it out of its misery. Saved it.
But now with the bones white against the cheatgrass and the hair
Matted and rank, I’m thinking maybe we should have left that dying thing
To die on its own, in a time and place of its choosing.
And yet I’d done that once: turned my back on a life that veered
Into mine. A man with torn pants and no shirt, his skin
As bruised and shiny as a river. I gave him no clothes or drink,
And he kept on walking. Through the steaming blue streets. Walking,
As the deer might have. For days, maybe. Or even weeks. But right here
The mice and beetles have been feeding, all winter long
On this body on which we believed we were bestowing some dignity.
And soon those holy blue birds will pass from us,
Swift as sacrament. The crocus will unfurl. The dogwood at our door
Will turn a furious white. And the thistle will grow thick over what’s left.
This spring and the next we won’t know what it was
We were saving, or whose blessing we were hoping to become.
That was “Interference” by Kimi Cunningham Grant.
Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at WPSU.org/poetrymoment.
Music by Eric Ian Farmer.