Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Poem-y moment of the week: "Fog" by Carl Sandburg

Remember this one from grade school, then middle school, then possibly even high school?

I love the quiet simplicity of this poem. I love the surprise of the little cat feet, and the transformational quality of that line. The fog becomes the cat, just that easily. And then it is the cat, or maybe the cat is the fog.

Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking over
harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

I quoted the first sentence on a handout for a poetry workshop I'm leading in a couple of weeks at the Adventures in Homeschooling Conference in Sacramento, and Tai happened to see it. "Is that something someone actually wrote," he asked, "or did you just make that up?" I wish.

I found the poem in its entirety and read it aloud to him. He was silent a moment, and then said simply, "I like that poem."

My heart swelled right up with...I don't know what--something good--for my poetry-liking boy.

But he wasn't finished. Then he explained to Kenzo--who had also listened to the poem and was now prowling around on little cat feet--about "haunches": "You know what haunches are, Kenzo? You know when Athena (our cat) is sitting or crouching? Right here (he squatted and pointed to his thighs), those are her haunches."

Kenzo squatted experimentally and looked down to check.

What an important line, that one with the haunches in it. It gives us the cat, alive. And that word, so muffled and soft and heavy-light, simultaneously grounded and ready to rise, so foglike, so watchful-catlike. You do kind of have to understand what haunches are in order to feel that poem all the way through.

Just the day before, Tai told me that poems had to rhyme and have rhythm, so it's interesting that he saw "Fog" as a poem. Maybe because I found it on But maybe not. I'll have to ask. At the time, I was just happy that he liked it.

It's not surprising, really. It's a great poem. It's short. It's evocative. And Tai is a cat fan and we do live near San Francisco. Though I have to say that the fast-motion stuff in SF and along the coast is a little different from the kind of fog that Sandburg probably imagined.

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