Sunday, May 01, 2011

Kathi Appelt - What Was She Thinking

What Was She Thinking?
Kathi Appelt

It’s the question her mother keeps asking.

That her only child could stop the train,
Snap her fingers and make it screech to a halt?

And now if only
are the only two words this mother can say.

If only she knew why the girl
looked up just in time to see
the golden beam of the engine’s light,
thought, how close is the moon, reached out to touch it.
Why she patted the dashboard of her new red Mustang,
the one her daddy gave her when she turned sixteen.
Now, she whispered, now. All her faith
in speed and gasoline, St. Christopher
dangling from the rearview mirror.

She would cry if she could remember how.

Her mother can’t stop crying.

And what about the engineer,
making his regular run between New Orleans
and Houston, sipping a cup of coffee
watching for deer along the tracks.
He always loved this time of night, the way
they turn and run,
their tails a white flash of goodbyes.

Now, he can’t bear the sight of them,
only looks straight ahead,
startled by each and every crossing,
so sorry for the lonesome
holy dark.

©2011 Kathi Appelt. All rights reserved.

True confession time: I haven't always been a fan of free verse, and that fact often still hovers way in the back of my brain. When I read Kathi Appelt's poetry, however, that distant thought never crosses my mind. I don't think there's time, really, as I'm instantly caught up (like I was last time she was here), engaged, reveling in well turned phrases and perfect, juicy words... even when the subject matter's not easy.

Her fiction's the same way. Her most recent novel, Keeper, ended up on seven slews of year-end 'best' lists, and followed up her Newbery Honor/National Book Award finalist The Underneath with more of the wonderful, poetic writing that just plain works for me (and, clearly, for many, many, many others!). I am, as I said last time, a fan indeed... and am very excited to have Kathi Appelt here wrapping up this year's edition of 30 Poets/30 Days.

(Greg's note: Kathi was the first poet to send me a poem this year. I had written up a draft post of hers first thing... then, in some frenzy of rescheduling, I made some still unknown to me error that left her post in the ether. I apologize for that but am thrilled to be able to close this year's celebration down with her now.)

Yesterday we had The Alphabet: A Found Poem by Jane Yolen. Tomorrow... a wrap up of the 2011 festivities!


tanita✿davis said...

Oh, this is painful.

All her faith
in speed and gasoline, St. Christopher
dangling from the rearview mirror.
-- a beautiful turn of phrase, even in the awfulness of it.

Mary Lee said...

This is a haunting, haunting poem. So much grief in these lines...

Martha Calderaro said...

The impact of the train, the power of these beautifully written lines by Kathi Appelt ...

Thank you, Greg, for 30 Poets/30 Days. How inspiring it's been, reading the words of such extraordinary poets each day!

Barbara Watson said...

When I first read Kathi Appelt's 'The Underneath' and then went on to 'Keeper,' I kept thinking - poetic, beautiful, and full of imagery. I feel her prose is poetry itself.

This poem is haunting and leaves an imprint on the soul.

Deborah Halverson said...

I love Kathi---her poetry, her picture books, her novels, and her, personally. Love this poem!