Kumin, Maxine: Offbeat Woman Poet

An American poet who wrote in the 50s, Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton were critique buddies. Here’s a poem of hers that struck me.

In the Park by Maxine Kumin

You have forty-nine days between
death and rebirth if you’re a Buddhist.
Even the smallest soul could swim
the English Channel in that time
or climb, like a ten-month-old child,
every step of the Washington Monument
to travel across, up, down, over or through
–you won’t know till you get there which to do.

He laid on me for a few seconds
said Roscoe Black, who lived to tell
about his skirmish with a grizzly bear
in Glacier Park. He laid on me not doing anything. I could feel his heart
beating against my heart.
Never mind lie and lay, the whole world
confuses them. For Roscoe Black you might say
all forty-nine days flew by.

I was raised on the Old Testament.
In it God talks to Moses, Noah,
Samuel, and they answer.
People confer with angels. Certain
animals converse with humans.
It’s a simple world, full of crossovers.
Heaven’s an airy Somewhere, and God
has a nasty temper when provoked,
but if there’s a Hell, little is made of it.
No longtailed Devil, no eternal fire,

and no choosing what to come back as.
When the grizzly bear appears, he lies/lays down
on atheist and zealot. In the pitch-dark
each of us waits for him in Glacier Park.

I like the specificity of the opening – it’s intriguing. I wondered why forty nine days? That was a new fact for me. I like the way Kumin connects this at the end of the second stanza, which has another interesting fact, about a bear laying on a character she introduces, Roscoe Black. Similarly, there’s an apparent detour in the third stanza, but she veers back on course in the final stanza, recalling all the elements she introduced in the various previous stanzas.

This post is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z 2023.

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