Friday, October 15, 2010

Looking for luck in Bangkok, a poem by Maxine Kumin.

Post 572 - Maxine Kumin (1925 - ) was born and raised in Philadelphia and educated at Radcliffe College. She taught English from 1958 to 1961 and 1965 to 1968 at Tufts University, and from 1961 to 1963 she was a scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study. She has also held appointments as a visiting lecturer and poet in residence at many American colleges and universities. Kumin was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1981-1982. Her many awards include the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize for Poetry (1972), the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1973) for Up Country, the Aiken Taylor Prize, the 1994 Poets' Prize (for Looking for Luck), an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for excellence in literature (1980), an Academy of American Poets fellowship (1986), the 1999 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and six honorary degrees. She has also published several novels, collections of essays and short stories, and more than twenty children's books.

Since 1976, she and her husband have bred Arabian and quarter horses on their farm in Warner, New Hampshire. The farm, a craggy, heavily forested 200-acre spread, most of which is now in conservation, is the locus of many of her poems and essays. Clearing pastures, building fences, exploring the overgrown trails that wind through the Min Hills, foraging for wild mushrooms, and weeding the beach that fronts on their pond are the physical tasks that free her mind to construct its own paths. "Allegiance to the land is tenderness," she says in one poem.

Looking for luck in Bangkok by Maxine Kumin.

Often at markets I see
people standing in line
to walk under an elephant.
They count out a few coins,
then crouch to slip beneath
the wrinkly umbrella that smells
of dust and old age
and a thousand miracles.

They unfold on the other side
blessed with long life,
good luck, solace from grief,
unruly children, and certain
liver complaints.

Conspicuous Caucasian,
I stoop to take my turn.
The feet of my elephant are stout
as planted pines.
His trunk completes
this honest structure,
this tractable, tusked,
and deeply creased
endangered shelter.

I squat in his aromatic shade
reminded of stale bedclothes,
my mother's pantry shelves
of cloves and vinegar,
as if there were no world of drought,
no parasites, no ivory poachers,
My good luck running in
as his runs out.

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