Literature 3-11-2008

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Amy McCann

Read "Thorns and Thistles," this week's winning poem by Amy McCann, selected by another What Light veteran poet Margaret Hasse.

Amy McCann

Thorns and Thistles

We thought the rabbits psalmists: their proper
     quiet, exaggerated ears, their noses so near

the grasses’ changeable text, turning dirt
     back into prayer. And what is ministry
          but pause? Just to rest without thirst

among thorns and thistles, and in stillness
     become something like a song.

I stood inches from your shoulder. I could
     press my cheek to the smooth
          cotton of your sleeve. I pictured nests,

shallow burrows lined with fur. The field
     became something careful.

When we said goodbye, our clumsy voices
     chased each rabbit in a different direction:
          one toward trees, one toward water.

Even their absence seemed perfect: that peace
     that the world cannot give.

From now on, we’d hear everything
     wrong, the words so much more
          beautiful in error.


This poem owes an accidental debt to Gerald Stern, who I (mis)heard a few years back reading a poem about “the rabbits over their psalms.” The actual line, I discovered later, includes not rabbits but the perfectly sensible “rabbis,” but in the meantime I was charmed by the image. I think that mistake says something about my approach to poetry—that often the best lines are born in error, when for a moment the brain is busy elsewhere and whatever weird thing the heart feels sneaks through. Like any writer, I suppose, I try to be open to those intrusive little truths.


Amy McCann lives in Minneapolis and teaches creative writing at Northwestern College. She has an M.F.A. in Poetry from Eastern Washington University and has been an AWP Intro Award Winner and a finalist for the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship and the Loft Mentor Series. Her work has appeared in New Letters, Third Coast, Hotel Amerika, The Laurel Review, Puerto del Sol, Image, and others.

This week’s poetry and wine pairing: Los Cardos Syrah

This wine shows an intense and deep red colour with hints of violet. On the nose, subtle aromas of berries (blackberries and raspberries) can be easily distinguished, blending harmoniously with spiced notes of black pepper, incense, toasted hazelnuts and toasted coffee. On the palate the wine is full of flavour, spiced and voluminous, with a soft and very agreeable finish.