I WAS A FAN of Keith Taylor’s nature essays and poetry for years before we met, so it’s probably not surprising that I liked him from the first time we shook hands. It was at the first Bear River Writers Conference, on Walloon Lake, Michigan, in 2000, and I liked him so much that I decided we would be friends for life, whether he wanted it or not.
We’ve been pals ever since, and my appreciation for his work just grows stronger. Every Keith Taylor book is extraordinary for its openness, candor, and clarity, and his observations are always sharp and fresh. Consider this, from his new chapbook, Fidelities:
just for a few weeks, from full summer
into September, on quiet days,
warm, humid but not hot—and the light
above the river turns green, like leaves,
reeds, water weeds or water itself
on its gently inexorable
slide through hills to the blue lakes beyond.
Keith travels widely, reads everything, and is one of those people who thinks deeply about the world and our place in it, so I’m always interested in what’s on his mind. I asked him to tell us what he’s been enthusiastic about lately, and his response is pure Taylor:
Oh, I wanted it to be something big! A big book that I could feel was changing my life even as I read it. Proust or Wittgenstein or something! Or something cool out there in the popular culture—a song, a movie, hell, I’d settle for a television show—so I could establish some kind of cultural cred. Or an adventure, undertaken or just planned. Australia, maybe. South Africa. Uzbekistan. Somewhere. Or a poem, one of those that came out of nowhere and just picked up the world, moved it a quarter of an inch, and changed everything (“We must have/the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless/furnace of this world.” Jack Gilbert, “A Brief for the Defense.”). I wanted it to be my rage at oppression and prejudice, but this week I just feel tired. I’m sorry. I’ll be outraged by something next week, I’m sure.
But, no, all I got was one tiny little bird, barely two inches long in a beat-up city park next to a freeway and a factory. A Northern Parula Warbler. A blue-gray back broken around the shoulders by a greenish haze. Two shades of yellow on the upper breast separated by a deep orangish/red band. The lower belly a pure white. It’s song some musical chips followed by a buzzing call. You can see and hear it here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Parula/id.
It landed just above my head in an invasive honey-suckle early Monday morning, just before a rain shower. It was on it’s way from somewhere in the tropics to its breeding range in the Upper Peninsula or north of Superior. It sang and sang, right into the rain. I had to leave and it was still singing.
And its light has filled me for the past two days. I’m sorry but that’s it. One little bird I saw when I was alone.
—Keith Taylor’s most recent chapbook is Fidelities: A Chronology (http://www.alicegreene.com/publications/fidelities-a-chronology/). He teaches a little at the University of Michigan.