I've never been one for big offices. It's the view that counts. Once for a very brief time I had an office in a ramshackle building that most employees shunned. But the window of my office looked out on prairie grass, farmland, and a lonely stretch of river. I was supposed to be writing research reports, but I wrote a lot of river poetry as well.
When I was moved I found that it is possible to write poetry when the only view is the air conditioning unit protruding from the window next door. But it was dark, ironic poetry out of touch with life's intertwinings of caterpillars and motorcycles, thunderclouds and river barges, footpaths and redtailed hawks. The point of a view is that it refuses to allow one to become disengaged. It celebrates the active voice. It objects to things tied up in neat conclusions. As I sat before the river view, I would be drawing some research to a close, congratulating myself with ''There; that is how it is.'' Then I would look up to see a finch sitting on a thistle, his bill stuffed with seed, the down on which stuck out in mustaches on either side of his face. Sometimes I might even see an eagle turning high above the river on air currents he alone could find. Then a poem would demand entrance. It would scold, ''You have no finch or eagle in your data. You cannot conclude without studying the fringe of green coming to the trees on the island.''
A view reminds one that life is no recluse and poems are some of life's most boisterous children. They are born of the hubbub created by worlds pushing and shoving at each other. Poems stand at a window peering in and shouting, ''I know you are in there. Speak up.'' The point of a view is that it is counterpoint to our lone melodies.
There is no doubt that the view of the river was a superior compeller of poems. Yet I've looked out on a stone wall that had almost as much to say as the river. The side of a house built in 1850, its limestone hunks were dragged from surrounding hillsides. A mason had set these hunks in mortar with the urgency and tenderness of a man building his own shelter. No smooth mechanistic finish trimmed its power. Freeze and thaw had jostled stone away from the facade in some places leaving ledges for sparrows. The wall served as much for sculpture as it did for siding.
I have not always made the best of a view. Once someone with more concern for plumbing than poetry cut down the venerable lilac bushes outside my window. Their roots, perhaps as scraggly as their branches, had pierced an artery in our building's life support system. My phone calls were too late. The damage had been done. I wanted to ask to be moved. Those branches were the hands of an old friend. Each bend and knob recorded a spring breakthrough we'd seen together, a triumph over frost and drought. The view became speechless in protest at the cuttings. There were more poems to be found staring at an air conditioner. Who would understand my request for a transfer?
There have been other views since the lilacs and the river. My office now looks down on brownstones, concrete high rises, and brick housing projects. A twenty-story electric blue crane hovers over the site, waving its blessing as it lowers pipes and electrical wiring. In its cabin, alone with his transistor radio, the crane operator gestures to the men below. He may have no time for poetry, but he has the view for it, though for me the view is almost too complex. I am trained by finches and lilacs so I must select.
Some days I count church steeples. Others I watch cyclists and runners maneuvering among double-parked cars. I have also counted the patches of trees and the number of days it will take for them to turn green or yellow. I have cataloged the theme and variations in roof ornaments decking the Victorian brownstones.
But few days pass that I do not watch the construction crew. Of course it is not the same as watching a lilac grow, yet, there is some of the same energy and ingenuity in this concrete compound. What the lilac does by virtue of its design , we must learn by questions and play. What structure will withstand the winds? How much space do we have and what can we do with it? What will hold sunlight after dark? What will we build with and what for? How much weight can this temporary building support as we put the permanent material in place? How do we keep at it in the sun and in the cold? Not unlike the poet's questions as the poem builds.
How like us to keep at it. And how like the lilac. Unlike the lilac, however, some among us may ask (as we go on building), ''Should we stop? Will we become scraggly with our growth? Will we violate the other life already here?''
I have no construction period poetry yet. But the construction is but a small part of this view. Beyond the concrete and brownstone, I can see the bay. It plays with light and sea gulls as the river did with eagles and clouds. It may be that the bay will be the next compeller of poems.