NOTES ON “THE HEAVY STUFF”
Bend your knees when lifting heavy objects.
Bend your knees when lifting heavy objects.
The poem “The Heavy Stuff” came out of the experience of my parents moving out of my childhood home, the only home I remembered, in Warren, Michigan, near the edge of Detroit. I wanted to both save the memories of that place and not fall into sentimentality about remembering—that was my struggle with this poem.
Part of my writing process is to let everything in at first—the spark for the poem was my parents’ moving, but that reminded me of moving my grandfather out of his house in Detroit, under very different, dangerous circumstances. A man who, instead of moving away when his neighborhood had become unsafe, crumbling around him, lined his living room with broken televisions
I’ve always been very interested in the writing of Bruce Chatwin (In Patagonia, Songlines, etc.) who often wrote about the human tension between being nomadic and establishing roots, and I’ve written a lot about that in other poems and short stories. The fiction writer Richard Price once said that where you're from is "…the ZIP code for your heart." So what does it mean to leave that physical zip code, and how do we carry it around with us in our hearts? sets so the thieves wouldn’t know which one to steal as a survival tactic.
I’m interested the physical move versus the emotional move—and what the “heavy” stuff is on both levels. How it jars us, shakes us up. Even when it was such a nondescript place like Warren, a community of neighborhoods built for autoworkers, literally surrounding the auto plants—no place to congregate except on street corners.
Growing up there, we were like the small birds that hawks could easily swoop down on. And who were the hawks? We never saw the hawks—those who controlled who worked when, who got laid off, who worked overtime, who lost their jobs permanently, forever. In another [one] of my poem[s], a father explains to his son, “we are the sparrows,” so this is a thread I’ve been exploring over the years.
One aspect of “The Heavy Stuff” that is totally made up is the hawk, and to be honest, I’ve never seen a hawk anywhere near Detroit. But in Pittsburgh, where I live, a hawk did fly into my picture window attempting to nab a bird at our nearby feeder. I see hawks frequently because I walk through Schenley Park, the Central Park of Pittsburgh, on my way to work every day, and the hawks often glide over a ravine in the park that I walk over on a bridge, so that they are often very close, gliding over my head, making my hair stand on end as I cross over.
“The Heavy Stuff” is my fifth publication in Poet Lore. The first time was 1993—nineteen years ago—so I feel like Poet Lore is one of my literary homes, a place I am comfortable submitting to (and being rejected by) because I know I will get a good, careful read. One of the things I noticed about the poems I’ve published in Poet Lore is that they are all very different. Just the titles of some of them—“War Dancing,” “I Slept with the Singing Nun,” “Salsa,” “Falling Short of Miraculous,“ “Christmas Dinner, Detroit, 2008,” and “¿”—suggest the range, I think. I have also read at The Writer’s Center on three different occasions over the years. I enjoy the sense of community there, and the energy that a community writing center can create.
In terms of form, I chose couplets for this poem because I wanted to be able to jump around in time and memory. It seemed to me that it needed white space to allow the reader to move around the different landscapes.
The hole-in-the-wall story is classic Daniels family lore. My mother used to sometimes tease me by trying to get me to kiss her when I was going out at night when I was a teenager. Back then, I did not want to have much to do with my parents. She jumped off a chair as I came out of the bathroom and startled me so much by butt crashed back right through the plaster. After my father repaired the hole, you could still
see the faint outline of where I’d fallen, and I’d bet good money you can still see it now in that house we can no longer enter—I’d put my mark on that house in a very human moment, so I felt I had to include that in the poem.
All of us, and our houses, are going to be rubble someday. Going over the old Poet Lore poems, I realized that the hawk in the park that I mentioned showed up in “¿”—a poem about a friend’s suicide. The hawk is out there somewhere, and I guess I’m all too well aware of it. “The Heavy Stuff” can keep us rooted to the earth, or make the impact of our fall all the more devastating.
Jim Daniels is the author of "The Heavy Stuff," (p.43) published in Poet Lore (Volume 106, Number 1/2). You can purchase the issue here, or procure a subscription to Poet Lore here.
Jim Daniels’ recent books include Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry, Carnegie Mellon University Press, All of the Above, Adastra Press, and Trigger Man, short fiction, Michigan State University Press. Birth Marks, BOA Editions, will appear in 2013.