When I was eight years old, my father told me with some reverence that a famous poet had once lived just down the street. I remember thinking that must be a cool job, writing down lines and getting paid enough to own this big, old, white, colonial house near the governor’s mansion. Of course, now I know the poet was Wallace Stevens, and even though he won the Pulitzer Prize, I’m certain he earned most of his income from his day job as an executive at an insurance company. Rumor has it he’d jot down lines on scraps of paper while walking to work, and then hand the strips to his secretary to type up. “Emperor of Ice Cream,” “The Palm at the End of the Mind,” “Hartford in a Purple Light”— all formed by an insurance guy strolling the avenues near Elizabeth Park.
Today, thirteen granite stones, each with a stanza from one of his most recognizable poems, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” mark his favorite walking route to work. That poem, in part, inspired my idea to ask twenty one nonfiction writing students to visit Elizabeth Park and come up with different stories. They strolled in the gardens, jotting down things on pieces of paper, and came up with completely unique narratives. In honor of old Wally, we present Twenty One Ways of Looking at a Park.
Mary Collins, Associate Professor
Water and Peace
There are times in which I fear the calmness and joy are fading, though that can’t be it. I try to find rocks and shells like I did as a child. Sometimes I have a sketchbook in tow to draw a fish that may be lurking beneath the waters. Doing so seems to help fill the hole inside me
Weather has eaten away at it. Day by day a piece becomes encompassed in rust, no longer recognizable from its glory days. A small part of my heart wishes to save it. Pick it up. Place it somewhere else. More noticeable, less forgotten. A place where it can’t weather away to nothing.
I can’t grow beautiful roses in my yard. When I see roses in other gardens, even public gardens like Elizabeth Park, I shake my head in regret. Regret for the beauty my garden is missing. Even more, regret for the way that modern roses require pesticides and insecticides order to attain such perfection.
The fearful life inside of that hole was not equitable to the life of this hawk, and certainly the hawk’s life was not equitable to our lives either, and so none of us intervened, in so giving our acceptance to this act of nature. In other words, giving our blessing.
We flew out the door, like only the young can, to face the rough edges of our neighborhood that rose up to greet us
The fountain here doesn’t roar. It doesn’t tumble and twist and pound either, but if I squeeze my eyes shut, the steady hymn of the spray begins to harmonize with the rhythm of my waterfall. The beat of Saturday’s past.
White Rose Soldier
On my way out of the park, I noticed the American flag shaped by a bed of roses, and I took a minute to salute my grandfather and everyone else who served in Vietnam and Korea, among other wars.
Wilderness at the Edge of the Schoolyard
We got into the car. I thought of the unescorted husky. That canine who scared me half to death likely still trotted alongside his owner in the wilderness by the edge of the schoolyard. We pulled out and drove off.
Flowers for Maureen
Like a vine on a chain-link fence, she was woven into our family, grasping onto it as if it were its source of life. In the tranquil spring days and the harsh summer afternoons, she tended her garden with care, giving specific attention to each flower as if it were her own child.
Birds of a Feather
The goose had established that solid ground belonged to him. Just like how different human groups did not want to mix, the animals did not mix either. Quite simply, this charge and retreat was simply a miniature turf war.
A right turn and a left over the bridge, and we were back at the house..I did not think about my emails, about my phone, or my boyfriend. I did not think of home at all. In that moment, I was home, I was free.
—Billie Sue McCarthy
But when I saw the strong roots of the tree at Elizabeth Park on that September afternoon, that kept the leaves, branches, and trunk together, I could see nothing but my mother.
My Future Wedding
Everyone celebrating the newly married couple into a long fulfilling marriage; like the various potted planted flowers; genuine and full of life
My Only and Final Rose
Love so hot like the sun with kisses so exotic like wild flowers, sweet memories filled my heart and mind. Strawberry fields were the sweetest of them all, my dear and beautiful Rose filled my life with greater joy.
—Rocio A. Ramos
Now my feet have softened and the callouses are long gone with nothing but vague memories of the many matches I played on top of the piling of dead bodies.
Luminous yellows, fiery reds, lovely lavenders; flowers I couldn’t even imagine before today, surrounded me
The Electronic Dilemma
A man seated by the pond’s edge in the warmth of the sun, had his head bent over and I thought he might be engaged with a good book. But I was wrong. He was engaged with his phone.
He was beautiful, so innocent as if the world had yet to touch him
Hundreds of roses sat still, so silent I could barely hear the wind whisper
A Walk in the Park
My grandmother told me, however, that bees just can’t see red
Coaxing plants out of their smaller pots tended to become quite the task, with frustration inevitably ensuing when kindness did not do the job. The plants all came out eventually, usually making me laugh with their stubbornness. I still remember the feel of digging my fingers into the potting soil and coming back with my hands covered in dirt: amazing, relaxing, and freeing.
—B. Chase Wall