Even Keeled

Nov 6, 2020

Today’s poem is “Even Keeled” by Douglas “Woody” Woodsum. He’s taught at two universities and five public schools and published poetry in dozens of literary magazines and journals. With his students, he has published twelve annual anthologies of oral history, folklore, and creative writing.

He writes, “I wrote 19 different drafts or partial drafts over a period of a month…I've never returned to the same real-life experience so many times for so long as I did with ‘Even Keeled.’ I wrote it in late 2017, shortly after the hunt, and I wanted to make it a good one for Pete, the hunter of the dedication, who took me out on the stream...

In the late 1980s when I published my first poems, I read thousands of pages of poetry, including the 1,400 page Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, all out loud. For me, it was like learning a foreign language, the language of poetry. I learned to trust my ear, and I learned the rhythms of poetry. Lucky me. Of the nineteen drafts of ‘Even Keeled’, only one sounded right, the one I sent you.”

Even Keeled
By Douglas Woodsum

--for Pete

Call me a softie, but big men hunting
ducks in a fourteen-foot canoe comes close
to intimacy: monosyllables
our small talk, our arm-strokes paddling whirlpools,
our tracks. The stream widened and narrowed, turned
around bends and switch-backed. We traced the land.
We traded seats midhunt so the stern-man
could load and snipe in the prow for jumping
ducks . . . and we jumped some: geese, a black barely
in range. Our aim was such we got skunked, still,
four shotgun blasts banged October. Wind roars
kicked up leaves long down. The black duck we missed
left a feather on the water’s skin. More
gusts made us pull harder, we northern friends.

Poem copyright ©2019 by Doug Woodsum.