I was chaining my bike outside Literary Life, our local treasure of an independent bookstore, and was delighted to run into Rick and Brenda Beerhorst, our resident neighbourhood artists and activists who have been catalysts for redemption and joy right here in the southeast corner of Grand Rapids, Michigan. We were all there to enjoy a reading from a local poet who was unfamiliar to me. Rick, with a hint of desperation in his voice, was leaving a series of messages for his friend John, but I was eager to get inside for the reading, which would begin at any moment.
Just before I excused myself, a wiry, somewhat gnarled character made his way up the sidewalk, his white T-shirt a mess of dirt and oil. Rick seemed to sigh in relief. "Where have you been?" he asked, perplexed and just a little perturbed. And pretty soon I realized I didn't have to rush into the reading: here was our poet, John Rybicki.
This image of the poet-as-auto-mechanic is indelibly inscribed in my mind when I think of John Rybicki's work. Indeed, it is the perfect context in which to hear him, for the connection and contradiction is embedded in his oeuvre as well. Consider, for example, "Tire Shop Poem," in his marvellous collection, We Bed Down Into Water (with a cover graced with a Rick Beerhorst engraving). The poem ends with a flourish of lyrical delight that pulls holiness from the middle of the workaday, finding the music in the mundane (do yourself a favour and read this out loud):
I catch his dare and rubber roll
a tire up my calf and pop
the center cap, clamp and spin,
hammer lead weights onto rim
after dizzying rim. I lug nut smash
and flick the pry bar from one hand
to the next. Fred Astaire in a
tire shop, where we slap our boots
across all that slop to outdistance
fire, outdistance that burning bush
that follows us everywhere.
Read the rest of "The Incarnation is Local."