I hope you don’t think this is another sheep poem. Of course, it is. Of course, it isn’t.
And here are my arms,
testaments to chores of childhood
in Midwest sun
and chosen duties of today.
They are brown
against my white thigh at night.
In the morning, I face the mirror
and raise them
to bracket my face and flex.
Lifting bales of hay
have bolstered my shoulders.
My upper arms are loaves of hardened bread.
A healing bruise from a sheep’s head
crowding in too close tattoos a bicep’s flesh.
Nicks from working fence-wire
decorate my forearm skin.
I release my pose, study my hands.
They’ve have gone to hell. A great callus
from the rake that mucks the barn
resides between forefinger and thumb.
My fingertips reek of musky lanolin.
With palms up, weight-lifter’s veins
run from wrist to elbow to armpit
near my breast. I don’t care
I’m woman. I like it like this.
No matter who you are or what you do, you have people who have influenced you. You might not have been directly mentored by or taught by or have even talked to these people, but you base your work on their ideas in one way or another. It may be through a shared interest in a particular content, or if you’re a writer, through a propensity for a particular style or through diction selection.
Often as a writer, you are asked who your influences are. It’s a good thing to know. These people can provide guidance through studying and reflecting on their work. They are who we return to when we’re stymied about what to write or even why we’re writing at all. One of my major influences is Maxine Kumin. Maxine gives me permission to write about sheep. Why? Because she wrote about horses. And hogs. In fact, she wrote about the meat packing plant in a town, Storm Lake, Iowa, where I lived from age 10 to 18. The poem is called “The Whole Hog.” If you like pork and buy it from the grocery store where the source of it is unknown, I suggest you don’t read it.
Maxine Kumin accomplishes what the interviewer, Peter Orr, states in his interview with Sylvia Plath (see below). Orr shares that “behind the primitive, emotional reaction there must be an intellectual discipline” in creating poetry. Kumin accomplishes this. It is what I strive for, too.
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