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Poetry Moment: 'The Muse, as Garter Snake, Drops You a Line', by Judith Sornberger

This is poetry moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet and author Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University. 

In Greek Mythology, nine muses presided over music, dance, art, and poetry—but also over such disciplines as comedy, astronomy, and history. Are you drawn more to a well-crafted joke? A fishing pole? What about. . . a garter snake? Whatever your own source of inspiration, keep listening.

Judith Sornberger lives on the side of a mountain outside Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. She is a professor emerita of Mansfield University of Pennsylvania where she taught in the English Department and founded the Women’s Studies Program. Sornberger is the author of four full-length poetry collections: Angel Chimes: Poems of Advent and Christmas(Shanti Arts), I Call to You from Time (Wipf & Stock), Practicing the World (CavanKerry), and Open Heart (Calyx Books).

We don’t always choose how, who, or what inspires us. In her newest collection, Judith Sornberger takes us on a tour of unexpected muses: a black bear, a witch, a goldfish, a mermaid, an elderly cyclist, and even a garter snake. Listen as the poet examines this skin-shedding reptile as a source of, and metaphor for, inspiration. As she plays off the word “line,” one image transforms into another. Ultimately, according to Sornberger, it is the process of creation that reunites, repairs, and renews the world.

Here’s —

The Muse, as Garter Snake, Drops You a Line

The Muse, as Garter Snake, Drops You a Line,
leaves her discarded skin beside your door—
long tunnel of parchment you could read
as a sinuous pause in a melodic line—
a memory you follow, flute to lips,
and breathe into new life.

You could read it as a line, in a sketch
of ink and pen, becoming a small boat
nearly hidden in the reeds—so far away
you can’t see where the fisherman’s
line sinks into the stream. Yet you feel
the gentle tug, the nibble in the darkness
of something wanting to be born,
and your skin prickles like the water’s
as you pull sun-spangled scales
and splashing anguish to the surface.

You could read it as a seam you might stitch
between countries of pigments and patterns,
between centuries and seasons,
between this life and the next one.
A seam to reunite, in new designs,
small pieces of the world as it unravels.

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Originally published in Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry

Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU. You can more episodes at Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.