Just This Side of Wonderful

Margaret Noodin

“Whether we hear giji-giji-gaane-shii-shii or chick-a-dee-dee-dee depends on how we have been taught to listen. Our world is shaped by the sounds around us and the filter we use to turn thoughts into words.”

Margaret Noodin, What the Chick-a-Dee Knows.


Six Sonnets : 2

By Janice Gould

She is just this side of wonderful,
and suddenly the glamorous world
fills itself with shining and we laugh
at highway monuments that explain
how hard the trek had been for Franciscans
in the Indian wilderness, poor fellows—
conversion is the devil’s own
work! Then the stones of her dream
turn up under her feet, the back
of a huge land turtle. I know
we must be circling Paradise
because the ants enter the fleshy petals
of the roadside flowers with evident
joy and purpose (oh, my dark, pretty one).

Margaret Noodin brings up an interesting idea; what we hear is heavily influenced on how we have been taught to listen.  I think that issue pertains not just to the natural world but to poetry as well.  How do we hear words? Each of us can listen to the same thing and hear something completely different, poetry more so than most other forms of written communication.  Poetry invites personal interpretation by defying convention and  completeness. What we hear is heavily biased by our lens in ways that reinterpret a poem into our own personal art form. I often realize that my bias so tilts me in favor or against specific poems that what I read is obviously different than what was in the writer’s mind when they created it. In some ways the act of writing and publishing allows both writer and reader to create their own separate discourse, and rather than that being a limitation of poetry, it is one of its blessings.  Poems are not directions on how to assemble an Ikea bookcase in which there is only one way to read it for one correct outcome.  

I wonder if some writers would take offense to the idea of a reader creating something unique by the act of reading, as it’s much harder to write something than it is to read it, but it sometimes takes courage on both sides of that ledger.  It happens to me all the time.  What I think I have said or written is so completely altered in the interpretation by someone else that it becomes its own thing by the act of sharing it between the two individuals.  Communication and specifically sharing poetry, opens the mystical gates of creativity that are perpetually a pandora’s box, with unending possibilities.  Once released by the writer it goes out on an unpredictable destination.

June is strawberry month in Minnesota.   The once bearing and ever bearing strawberries (which in Minnesota means 3 months, June, July and August) are both at their peak. If you grow strawberries it means you are picking and eating strawberries nearly every day this time of year.  You can only eat so many fresh strawberries, which is why strawberry jam is so much fun to make and store, so that as you spread it on your PB&J sandwich next January, you can picture that gorgeous June day when you picked the fruit and canned it.  

Noodin and Gould learned to listen differently in part because they grew up hearing a language uniquely American.  Noodin’s creative process is to write in Anishinaabemowin and then translate it into English.  I can’t read the lines in her native tongue as I have no basis for understanding pronunciation, so her poetry violates one of my cardinal rules, READ POETRY OUT LOUD, but it is delightful to see the beauty of the language on the page, thick with vowels and soft consonants.  Her poem makes me want to make strawberry jam this weekend.


by Margaret Noodin
She makes strawberry jam
ginagawinad wiishko’aanimad, waaseyaagami
mixing sweet wind and shining water
miinawaa gipagaa nibwaakaa,
with thick wisdom
bigishkada’ad, dibaabiiginad
pounding, measuring
gakina gaa zhawenimangidwa
everything we’ve cared for
gakina gaa waniangidwa
everything we’ve lost
nagamowinan waa nagamoyaang
the songs we have not yet sung
miigwanag waa wawezhi’angidwa
the feathers yet to decorate
and all the ways we’ve smiled
mooshkine moodayaabikoong
into jars filled to the brim
ji-baakaakonid pii bakadeyaang.
to be opened when we are thin.