Galway Kinnell on the Pleasures of Ordinary Things

December 15, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Poet Galway Kinnell reads "Why Regret?" a poem from his new book about "engaging ourselves with the common acts, the ordinary things, the other creatures."

GALWAY KINNELL, Poet: I’m Galway Kinnell and I have here a poem called “Why Regret?” that I’d like to read.

The poem took me a very long time to write, perhaps two or three years, stopping to add things that came to me in the meantime.

I had in mind that the poem is addressed to all readers, including myself, reading it over to tell us to remember the pleasures and the confidence we gain from engaging ourselves with the common acts, the ordinary things, the other creatures, and to remind us in this holiday season, when we get reports everyday of the most horrible killings, that nevertheless we have very much to be thankful for.

Didn’t you like the way the ants help
the peony globes open by eating the glue off?
Weren’t you cheered to see the ironworkers
sitting on an I-beam dangling from a cable,
in a row, like starlings, eating lunch, maybe
baloney on white with fluorescent mustard?
Wasn’t it a revelation to waggle
from the estuary all the way up the river,
the kill, the pirle, the run, the rent, the beck,
the sike barely trickling, to the shock of a spring?
Didn’t you almost shiver, hearing book lice
clicking their sexual dissonance inside an old
Webster’s New International, perhaps having just
eaten of it izle, xyster, and thalassacon?
Forget about becoming emaciated. Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song.
Didn’t it seem somehow familiar when the nymph
split open and the mayfly struggled free
and flew and perched and then its own back
broke open and the imago, the true adult,
somersaulted out and took flight, seeking
the swarm, mouth-parts vestigial,
alimentary canal come to a stop,
a day or hour left to find the desired one?
Or when Casanova took up the platter
of linguine in squid’s ink and slid the stuff
out the window, telling his startled companion,
“The perfected lover does not eat.”
Didn’t you glimpse in the monarchs
what seemed your own inner blazonry
flapping and gliding, in desire, in the middle air?
Weren’t you reassured to think these flimsy
hinged beings, and then their offspring,
and then their offspring’s offspring, could
navigate, working in shifts, all the way to Mexico,
to the exact plot, perhaps the very tree,
by tracing the flair of the bodies of ancestors
who fell in this same migration a year ago?
Doesn’t it outdo the pleasure of the brilliant concert
to wake in the night and find ourselves
holding hands in our sleep?