Amaze

Don’t forget when you
see the word, you whisper maze,
or lip it in your head
remembering, perhaps, the spring
it snowed so wet, so heavy
the maples and ash heaveddown across the highway,branches crossed every path
in town so detours led only to detours
and everything was dead end,
but still the world was alive, warm,
crocus and daffodil poking out of the snow
magnolia buds fresh on broken limbs, tragic,
but amazing really, that labyrinth
the word refers to, pointing
after a few switchbacks to daze,
stupefy, the uncertainty one experiences
in short sleeves shoveling snow,
in trying to get from one place
to another without any clear view
as to how. We end up anywhere
but where we expect
such warm Spring days
like the one just after
we’d met. You had a secret
to tell me I already knew,
but I let you tell it anyway, your eyes
dark as branches
that moment I knew
we’d entered a maze
we live in still
where snow storms come
out of nowhere, incongruous
and absurd as children
we didn’t expect, laughter
after death, anger cutting
its teeth on love, flowers
cutting up through ice.

Heithaus thumbnailEavesdrop on any conversation these days, and you’re likely to hear the adjective “amazing.” But the above poem by Joe Heithaus reminds me of something William Carlos Williams once said about Marianne Moore: she “wipes soiled words or cuts them clean out, removing the aureoles that have been pasted about them or taking them bodily from greasy contexts.” In “Amaze,” Heithaus, a professor of English at DePauw University, restores a dreamy sense of wonder to an overused word and simultaneously suggests the triumph of love over fear.

As early as line two, Heithaus reminds us the verb contains the noun maze: the ensuing sentence winds like a labyrinth over 20 lines, describing a spring much like the one we have just endured, a late snow threatening seasonal blooms. The syntax slaloms us down a hallucinatory course of reversals: line 4 invokes what could have been an ordinary spring, but the next introduces the heavy snow, the sentence cutting back and forth, mimicking the detours from downed tree limbs. But even amid frustration and peril, the poet observes the absurd beauty of early blossoms rising out of snow. And by including secondary meanings of “amaze”—daze, stupefy—Heithaus reminds us that the unexpected can be overwhelming.

Here, the poem moves from strange weather to a finale both more personal and universal. Memory leads the poet to a different spring, when he met the woman he would ultimately marry. Love, too, is a kind of maze, he tells us, “where snow storms come / out of nowhere, incongruous / and absurd as children we didn’t expect.” Heithaus ends with the mixed up maze of our lives: “laughter / after death, anger cutting / its teeth on love, flowers / cutting up through ice.” Facing what we did not anticipate, we can only relax, stick close to the ones we love, and delight in this wild ride.

This poem originally appeared in Flying Island (Spring / Summer 2007) and was reprinted in And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana, ed. Jenny Kander and C.E. Greer (Indiana Historical Society P, 2011).

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