“Walking is often the encountering of the world of things, not only ‘out there,’ but for some odd reason ‘in here,’ as each step releases examples and thingamajigs – apples and wheelbarrows, plots and transitions … Altogether thinking with things is so much richer than without them.” – Transfer of Qualities by Martha Ronk
My daily trips around the neighborhood are usually inspired by my dog, who lies patiently until I head near the door, then scrambles up, all panting and glee. “Walk! Walk! Walk!” I follow, as Martha Ronk suggests, thinking about apples and plots, while my companion sniffs bushes, or lifts his nose to any canine or human passerby who seems to admire him.
In her collection of poems and some elegant prose, Martha Ronk explores the sense of life we may find in things we call inanimate. As children, we read poems about flowers that sing and trees that dance; many of us believed that toys came alive at night. We’re eventually taught to drop this notion, and call it pretending or personification, leaving talking stars to poetry, which we’re told not to trust too much. But some of us quietly read not just words, but things, and expressions, and things we find along our way. The world is full of clues about its, or should we say her or his, meaning. Birds, frogs, snails, or rocks can hint at good ways to be. Things turn into something else, just as early in the month, flowers bloomed on milkweed, which is now yellow with pods that will soon burst to release silky puffs that many children see as beds for elves. Why not?
Metaphors often begin by finding some meaning hidden in the tangible, then pointing out a link between something small and seen and something grand and invisible. They’re reminders of how two different things may meet and both change, like people whose happiness grows bigger as they turn to friends. Sometimes we use “as” or “like” to forge the link, like a button. These similes may feel snug, while metaphors give us more of a spin.
A leaf or plant doesn’t mean just one thing, but bristles with all aspects of maybe. The world, like a sentence, isn’t a puzzle. Still, who believes that the world is something we’re supposed to entirely understand? We’re lucky to live where magic and science mingle, like asters, goldenrod, and milkweed. And if science and magic aren’t always crazy about each other, surely they at least get along.