Minnesota Poets: Katrina Vandenberg’s ‘O,P,R,S (Eye/Mouth/Head/Tongue)’

St. Paul poet Katrina Vandenberg‘s new collection “The Alphabet not unlike the world” takes everyday situations from life in Minnesota, like watching for deer while driving a rural road at dusk, and turns them into heart-wrenching poems about the state of the world. Vandenberg, who teaches at Hamline, will read on June 5th at Micawbers Books.

Tune in tonight to All Things Considered for an interview with Vandenberg and a look at her new collection of poems. In the meantime, here’s one of them:

O, P, R, S (Eye/Mouth/Head/Tongue)

At dusk the deer appear on the highway shoulder,

more of them as the light continues to die.

Suddenly they simply are,

bare brown outlines, hesitant. I am

to scan for movement, eye-shine; my husband,

to brake when I say deer. If I say deer

are the world at dusk, barred owls — if antlers

are trees in silhouette; if as the light goes down

we are coming out of our hiding places, on the move

to night feeding grounds, hunted, haunted,

should I say I see these things,

even if I cannot name the pine

the deer walk among, could not track

their hoof prints to the river. If the ribbon

my life moves along is thin: diner,

asphalt. The poem is older than

ochre, sienna horses inked on stone,

older than my body, can I say it?

The deer are the world at dusk.

My body cannot help but remember.

The deer cannot help bolting into the road

in front of our car. They cannot help walking

with the name we gave them

which once did not mean deer

but any untamed thing that breathes

and traces back to the Sanskrit for he perishes.

– by Katrina Vandenberg, from her collection “The Alphabet Not Unlike the World” published by Milkweed Editions. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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