Because I ran into Lewis Freedman in a bookstore in Brooklyn one summer and told him about my project, a project I talked about so as to expose the process of writing, a process of being open to the possibility that anyone can inform the poems I am writing, the possibility that anyone could have ties back to this place or the people of this place or its history, its history that is part of a larger American history that is ours to interpret and to make, because I met Lewis by chance one summer, I read poems about Germantown in Madison this winter.
And before the reading I considered cutting the reference to Howard “cleaning up Germantown to make it look like Chestnut Hill” because I thought it would be lost on Midwesterners, but, as usual, a woman in the audience has a tie to the neighborhood through her sister-in-law in Chestnut Hill. And how naturally our conversation after the reading turned from seasonal produce to community gardens in Milwaukee and Detroit, sites of food security, political activism, and sites fraught with memories of slave labor. And how naturally over breakfast Lewis tells me about one of his current research projects, a man named Abraham Lincoln Gillespie, a “lost” poet of the 1920s, whose poems are strings of neologisms, who lived next to Stein in Paris, who went to Germantown Academy, and whose surname is printed on my grandfather’s mass card because their family ran the local funeral parlor.
And then I walked across a frozen lake. For the first time in my life. The lake where Otis Redding’s plane went down. I walked a block on a frozen lake because I was open to the possibility that I wouldn’t fall in. And poetry made all of this possible.