Monday, January 6, 2020

Poem366: “The Tethered Ground” by Lanette Cadle


The Tethered Ground by Lanette Cadle

The Tethered Ground by Lanette Cadle, Topeka, Kansas: Woodley Press, 2019

I got to know the poet Lanette Cadle in Ohio, and we have continued our friendship in Missouri, but make no mistake: Cadle is a Kansan, through and through. She is also an observant one, and this shows in her premier collection The Tethered Ground.

Cadle’s love for her home state is apparent through the level of attention she pays to its animals, its neighborhoods, its people—even its winds. The title poem, which takes pole position in the book, offers a close look at the weather:

   The clouds press the ground today, rolling in
   and dropping buckets before they roll out

   fast as sin. It’s hard to be lighthearted, even though
   I know it’s just the barometer and will pass.

   My body hears the message it sends—run
   and hide. The storms are coming. …

This poem contains a sentence I love for its simplicity: “Soft clouds, // hard times,” before offering the observation that “if not for this tethered ground we would float away.” And it’s true—gravity, both kinds, keep us rooted, as so many of Cadle’s poems demonstrate.

The poet’s reliable eye for the weather continues in the stunning “On Living Too Far South for Snow.” People who live in the southern United States are aware that northern neighbors scoff at us—how a light spitting of snow can shut the entire region down. Only thing is, the snow isn’t the problem; it’s the ice that comes with it, the product of precipitation and freezing and thawing and freezing again. Cadle writes about this, and in doing so, she demonstrates the ruthlessness of Kansas weather. The poem begins, “It snows, but not that often. Serious snow / is a legend imported from other states.” It continues,

Too much ice
   is more likely, and with it, tree limbs, downed wires,
   and dead plantings that don’t come back. My granny
   used to snap off the top of saplings to see
   if they were alive or dead, a fifty-fifty shot
   after a Kansas winter.

The very next poem in the book belies some of its predecessor’s claims, and begins, “Forget what I said earlier. It snows here / all the time.” This one outlines how people get lost and freeze on the way to the mailbox or die in a neighbor’s yard. Kansas doesn’t accept slights easily.

There is more to this book than observations about Kansas, but it does seem to offer a Kansas point of view, even when talking about seemingly unrelated topics, like overcoming cancer or losing a friend. It’s the unflinching view, I think—the willingness to tell hard truths in a straightforward way—that feels like a Midwestern mode to me. It’s a voice we don’t hear nearly enough, and I recommend The Tethered Ground to hear those earnest cadences.

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