Something Bigger Out There

Dec 20, 2019

Today’s poem is “Something Bigger Out There” by Jen Ryan Onken, who has been teaching high school English for more than half her life.  She has taught overseas in Beirut, Alexandria, and Lesotho in Southern Africa-- but she now lives and teaches near Berwick, ME.  Her poems have been featured in Love's Executive Order and the women poets’ anthology, Lunation, published by Senile Monk Press.

She writes, “This poem arrived from the legitimate terror of being invited to read my work aloud last fall on Portsmouth Public Radio.  The only way I could approach this occasion was to write my way through imagining what would actually happen to my words during the broadcast-- where they would land...and then the poem just arrived at this question: what if they landed in the lap of someone exactly like me, who might also need to feel there was something bigger out there?  What would happen then?”

Something Bigger Out There 
by Jen Ryan Onken

Guy asked me to read my poems on the radio.  To a faceless crowd, he said.   
Poetry of all things in silent sound waves rippling at light speed.  My words
orbit: to all the nameless faces out there, Good morning!  Shuddering 
through speakers under old docks where periwinkles listen, 
half submerged; across the dentist’s plate of sharp tools;
between shady roadside ferns and maneuvering through logjams on I95; 
into oatmeal near the crinkled TIME magazine.  An old lady would be shocked 
that I’d read my poem about my favorite birth control: vasectomy.   
Could my husband hear the too big truth in these unfinished moons? 
An alien holding a cup to his weird ear could be translating, learning
about “the human.” Some other mom driving a red Outback with empty car seats 
might be changing the station and catch the last stanza.  She’d forget
to turn left to pick the kids up from school.  She’d pass the old Counting House Museum, 
the bison farm.  She’d just be thinking, remembering riding her bike
as fast as she could down the Quarry Road, that young sort
of wildness, not anticipating the crash.  She’d be thinking
how everything looks older now.  Older but more beautiful in its neglect—
milkweed filling up in the pasture, jade-pendant chrysalises she could never find
underneath.  The sad thunder of old tractors in haying time.  She’d remember the bobolinks
and their breezy song swaying from the purple tips of spring grass—
they were already gone.  She’d start to feel something akin to fear 
like, what have I been doing all along?  And what’s that voice in my head, tapping out 
some faint shape I’ve never known?  What else is out there, she’d be wondering, feeling startled
by this strange frequency—
and lost in the sudden roadside emptiness.

Poem copyright ©2019 Jen Ryan Onken.