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Poetry Moment: 'Backyard Journal' by Ryan Walsh

Poet Ryan Walsh
Bradd Celidonia
Poet Ryan Walsh

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 “Backyard Journal” by Ryan Walsh.

Ryan Walsh lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he gardens and promotes the benefits of urban agriculture. He’s the author of the poetry collection Reckonings, and his poems have appeared in many journals, including Blackbird, Ecotone, Field, and Green Mountains Review. He earned an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a BA from Warren Wilson College. He’s taught creative writing and literature at Albion College, the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Carnegie Mellon University.

In the mid-19th century, Walt Whitman declaimed in Leaves of Grass, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” The ecstatic, even the mystical, is part of the long tradition of poetry, asking the reader to share in the awe the poet feels and writes about. Often that sense of awe and wonder begins with close attention to the natural world, to the smallest of creatures, to the connections between all living things and the sun which life relies upon, moving outward toward the galaxies that sprawl beyond the naked eye, the hunger that possesses us, our desire to know where we come from, how the miraculous spark began and where it might lead us. And all of this, for Walsh, is inspired by a moment in July, considering some raspberries and a trumpet vine whose nectar pleases a visiting hummingbird.

Here's —

Backyard Journal

July again. Birds are warbling a language it seems
I’ve forgotten, the PIN to an account
rich with epiphanies, like a side trail to a clearing
fringed and fat with dewy raspberries.
Old desires lie dormant within me
while I stare into the back forty.

The flowers of the trumpet vine and the ruby-throated
visitor delirious with nectar hear this:
beneath layers of wingbeats,
of twittering insect chant
and the inhale-exhale of this human observer,
a molecular hum blends and blurs.

So this is the world of the 10,000 things.
The magazine in my lap casually relays
a sample from Hubble's ultra-deep field:
uncountable galaxies bloom in the garden of the outer dark—
whirlpools, sombreros, crab and cat’s-eye nebulae.

Before I can finish my coffee, our star’s luminous body
is over the weeping willows. Geese honk. Silver maples
sigh in a breeze that flaps these pages, and I am back
to the illusion of discrete thought and landscape,
the separation of this from that.


That was “Backyard Journal” by Ryan Walsh.

Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at

Music by Eric Ian Farmer.

Todd Davis is the 2022-23 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.