Fast Commute

The meteorologists are pleading with us

to keep checking back through the storm,

ice pellets making a carpet two, three inches thick,

this pale beach we walk on, this wind that passed

over the bodies of the lakes and the lakes that

froze it, the arctic sunk deep, meeting our cheeks,

gathering on us, this snake’s rattle of weather,

this sandstorm of ice six inches deep and climbing,

these April showers.


To understand that I am present here,


that I am sensed, that the soil feels me,


that the mourning dove knows my species


better than I know its species,


and with this understanding to start to hear—





          Stands of windy birch tracing themselves like fingers


Birch spear wind-dark coniferous



               Approaching rain a mouth of flies, of fireflies


The maple an hourglass, the trunk measuring


                       The trunk the conduit, the neck, the language



Crows in each treetop, parsing

Dive in

1. What phenomenon is occurring in the first stanza, that takes the speaker by surprise?

2. In the second stanza, the poet shifts to the infinitive (“To understand,” “to start to hear”) – how does this impact your reading? Does it bring you closer or further from the subject? Does it invite you in?

3. What do you think the poet means by “To understand that I am present here, / that I am sensed, that the soil feels me”?

4. The third stanza feels like another change in voice, or tone (and remember that this is an excerpt from a long poem, so the pagination reflects these shifts as well) – what images in the third stanza stand out most to you? Why?

5. If you were reciting this poem-excerpt, where would you pause, and how would you show the shifts in tone mentioned above?

Writing exercise

Begin a poem in the infinitive (to see, to understand, to dance, etc.), and give a new image on every line.

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Bibliographical info

"Fast Commute" from FAST COMMUTE: A POEM by Laurie D. Graham, Copyright © 2022 Laurie D. Graham. Reprinted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

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