Arts & Leisure

Poetry: Life under a tiny roof, in the rain

TRICIA KNOLL

The Usefulness of an Umbrella
Few care about this ordinariness
that spends summer days in the back of closets
until a chiller wind whips in squalls and out of nowhere
you are on a city street with the only person you can imagine
sharing with, an uneven compromise of broad shoulders
and slim expectations or steps bumbled in fear of falling
and his hand is so much bigger than yours. If
this were a seesaw, you’d wonder if it is play,
a tug and release, let me take care of you instead
of taking care of myself so wholeheartedly that I let go
or diminish myself so our ceiling is higher and broader
and perhaps darker under the onslaught of showers.
 
What you know is that umbrellas are precarious:
they turn inside out and ribs poke through vulnerable
spaces. Sharp. A latch breaks and the expected upside
falls down like a veil and you no longer see everything
as you should, muddled in furled drapery. The friend
goes another way, steps into the Uber going uptown
and you are certainly downtown. Too much rain
is falling to leave semi-useful behind and yet you do,
declaring the broken as discard, seeking
the trash can that swallows the thing whole
until you can find the shop that sells another one –
perhaps purple with bright gold stars.
— Tricia Knoll
This poem was first published in “Verse Virtual.”
 
Tricia Knoll moved to Vermont almost three years ago to be closer to family. Her poems have received 9 Pushcart nominations and one Best of Net. Her poetry collections include “Urban Wild” (Finishing Line Press); “Ocean’s Laughter” (Kelsay Books); “Broadfork Farm” (The Poetry Box), and “How I Learned To Be White” (Antrim House) which received the 2018 Indie Book Award for Motivational Poetry. Her chapbook “Checkered Mates” comes out from Kelsay Books in April 2021. Visit triciaknoll.com to find out more.
 
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Most people know this scenario well: the rainstorm where you and another person are huddled under the umbrella, struggling to make it work. Who is taking over the controls? Who is compromising? Who is trying too hard to protect the other, or not enough? It can by funny, and brings to mind so many images of my own experiences, of others I’ve witnessed, and of course those classic umbrella movie scenes. The umbrella imagery also a great analogy for relationships, and it works wonderfully in this poem as a colorful and playful metaphor.
I love the interplay of the different hand positions on the handle, trying this or that or just letting go entirely. Sometimes it all works itself out and the two people fall into a workable and comfortable rhythm. Sometimes it works for a while and then a bigger downpour comes or a wind gust turns the whole thing inside out and you both get soaked. Or it collapses and it “falls down like a veil…. muddled in furled drapery.” If you pause a bit after each image the poem puts forth, you can feel how the scenes are about so much more than the umbrella sharing, how they are like little vignettes of how two people relate. Sure everything feels fine when the sun comes out again, but what of those times when you’re stuck under a tiny roof, nowhere to escape to, unexpected challenges popping up all the time. Sound familiar?
Things can really come into sharp focus when we’re confined for long periods of time in small places. We start to see that thing we do when we’re frustrated or anxious. Might we try something else? Is this something we can just let go of, for the sake of the umbrella, for the sake of harmony? Maybe it is, because one of these days the weather will change, and so might the form of the umbrella. Some umbrellas probably will have to go, and perhaps this will be the right choice. They can, after all, handle only so many times being turned inside out. And some will be tossed, but prematurely, due to someone thinking there’s got to be a better one out there, one that sparkles, when maybe yours just needed a little maintenance. And some will be kept, even battered and misshapen, because amidst all the missteps and challenges and frustration, there was something else happening. A growing gratitude or love for your umbrella and umbrella partner that led to a letting go or an opening up or willingness to change that iron grip, or maybe get more of a grip. There’s no telling what might happen under an umbrella, especially in spring.
Susan Jefts is a poet and educator who lives in the Adirondacks and Ripton. She has recently completed her first full-length book of poetry, and runs workshops using poetry as a way to explore life transitions and directions, and our relationships with nature.

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