801: Landscape with Things

801: Landscape with Things

801: Landscape with Things


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

As a young parent, one of my favorite rituals was to awaken my sleepy-eyed children out of bed, file downstairs still in pajamas, and, resting on the sofa, look out our living-room window together. Sunlight slowly illuminated everything within the frame of our bay window.

To whatever was in sight, we’d say “Good Morning.” Good morning tree. Good morning squirrel. Good morning snow. It was my way of helping them enter into the day. It eventually turned into a game whose aim was to exhaust what was seen, and of course, there was no end to seeing. We’d spar back and forth. Good morning rooftops. Good morning cars. Good morning neighbor. Good morning neighbor’s dog. Admittedly, I wasn’t being so original. The litany of naming was a riff off the children’s book classic Goodnight Moon.

The world comes into being, in both consciousness and in form, when it’s spoken. I wanted my children to engage in acts of observation, acts that beckoned them to a pitch of noticing and careful attention. I wanted them to become wonder-filled, to receive and admire the ground beneath them, to come to love and revere the world of ten thousand things, to wake up to the aliveness of our precious life, its inhabitants, and creatures. That itself was the reward.

During those many mornings, they were the ones that taught me to see deeper. As they became older, their language grew. I was continually surprised by what they called out, as though they were conjuring life before me. Good morning red maple. Good morning Jack Russell terrier. Good morning weathervane.

Today’s extraordinary poem practices an awareness of the ordinary and the quotidian: that which threatens to go unnoticed, if not for the poet’s special care of observation, which feels like a kind of gratitude and blessed grace.

Landscape with Things
by Alexandria Hall

And still the pileated woodpecker beats
her beak against the dying maple. Still
the clapboard barns soften and sink into the earth.

Still drafty farmhouses fill with wind and mice,
then empty. The long body of I-95 stretches
unequivocally southward, cradled for a moment

by the George Washington Bridge. Still bits
of broken bottles and bone shift, shimmer,
and clink amongst scarce sedges at Dead Horse Bay.

And still the serif of the Domino Sugar sign hangs
on its particular lattice over Baltimore’s harbor. Still
the house sparrow evicts a bluebird from its nest

below the eaves. ... but the Son of man hath not where
to lay his head. We had, at one time, when we needed it,
the reclining seats of a Honda Civic in a Walmart

parking lot off the interstate, with our coats to cover us.
Still the parking lot rests open, scattered with carts
on crooked wheels, jolted ahead sometimes by the wind.

Still the waters of the thermal baths murmur in their tiled
pools within the row of bathhouses in Hot Springs. Still,
against sunset, oil wells like slow sandpipers or drinking birds

bore into the earth, endlessly across Texas. Still ants and doves
find the fruit of the saguaros at Gates Pass where the slatted
ramada and stone wall still stand, still extend their invitation

to stop for a moment, to watch. Through things, we reach
to touch the everlasting, says Arendt. And still the tight
iron cages of the old LA zoo wait with doors open

to feel again the pacing of a living thing, hot exhalation,
scratch and shedding hair, warm sound of skin folding
against skin, pressing into dirt.

“Landscape with Things” by Alexandria Hall. Used by permission of the poet.