I LOVE YOUR POEM!: Jonathan Bluebird Montgomery on Sarah Lee’s “A Pet”

This is the first installment in a new series called “I LOVE YOUR POEM!” in which people submit on behalf of local poets whose work they admire and write about why they do. The idea is not only to highlight great work, especially from those who might not submit the work themselves, but also to create a big gushy lovefest in the community. If you’re interested in submitting on behalf of a local poet you love you can check out the submission guidelines here

Pretty much from the moment I decided to put together this “I LOVE YOUR POEM!” project I knew I wanted to write one on Sarah Lee.

Sarah was a student in my poetry class at Front Range Community College last spring. She hadn’t really written much poetry before that, but she approached it with great curiosity, really bought in, and ended up creating some pretty impressive work. I first envisioned this piece coming from the perspective of a proud teacher, which I still am, altho as Sarah has gotten more involved in the local lit scene since that class, my admiration for her writing has grown to that of a legit fan. 

There are many artists who can replicate things very skillfully, a well-executed synthesis of their influences, predictable but dependable, and this is fine enough. But there is another more rare breed of artist known as the ‘True Original’ (TO), who has a mind that doesn’t just choose to approach things differently than others, but is probably actually incapable of doing it any other way. This can obviously be a liability in normie society, but when applied to art they can come up with things completely, uncalculatingly, and refreshingly out of step with the work everyone thinks they’re supposta be making at that moment. These are usually my favorite kind of artists, and I believe that Sarah Lee is one of them.  

Sarah is neurodivergent and has a physical disability, and that might explain some of her TO one-of-a-kindness, but I prefer to believe that she’s also just been touched by the Gods of Literature, giving her poetic superpowers of originality. Whether poetry or her longer prose pieces, her work is relentlessly imaginative, effortlessly conjuring surreal, goofy dreamscapes full of oddball characters, slaphappy settings, and even freshly invented languages. She is also capable of equally unique but deeply personal and emotional writing centering on the challenges of her conditions, feelings of exclusion, and her love for her incarcerated brother.

I chose “A Pet” for a few reasons. One is because she wrote it for our class, so I was witness to its creation. Another is because it features a bird and, ya know, I love birds. And yet another is that the tone is just so darn delightful and makes me smile. 

The idea for it originated from our eco-poetics week when I took the class outside for a birdwalk near the college. The subject of the intelligence of crows and other corvid species came up and how they are able to solve multi-step puzzles and recognize human faces, and Sarah, who is an animal lover (both living and stuffed), soon got attached to the idea of having one as a pet and just hadta write about it. She brought the first draft into class and from there tweaked some lines and tightened up the rhyme scheme and took suggestion to withhold the identity of the pet until the end. Intended for children (or children-at-heart), the final version came out as this whimsical, Silverstein-esque breath of fresh air, with wonderfully off kilter lines like ‘put marshmallows on my tackle box’ and ‘he’s as wise as a horse,’ which only a TO could come up with. I mean, the whole idea of a crow as a pet is pretty darn TO, but in the end it delivers the very relatable desire for companionship with something a little wilder than ourselves that might just help us conquer our ‘inner strife.’

So yeah… I LOVE THIS POEM!… haha…and the very TO illustrations she included with it. And I’m so happy that Sarah continues to commit to her art, and I’ll do what I can so that she never stops. In fact, you might look out for a full-length collection of hers from Boulder Poetry Scene sometime soon! 

A Pet

People have their cats and dogs
Lizards, goldfish, toads and frogs
Myna birds and mice and snakes,
Parrots and ferrets, for goodness’ sakes–

But by far, not one of those 
Quite compares to who I chose
Even when my days go slow
My brilliant pet makes my heart glow.

He’s glistening black
He eats out of the trash
And no matter how long he roams,
By twilight, he always comes home.

I lured him in from the fishing docks
Put marshmallows on my tackle box
His clever eyes lit with delight,
He ate ‘til all were out of sight.

We venture together through the day
He screams when he’s got things to say
We go toward clear blue waterfalls
Reflect what God made, great and small.

We hear winds whine through old spruce trees,
And soulful cries of chickadees
And somber calls of song-sparrows,
As they lament their tireless woes

I bury my hand in cool, dark soil
And rub my pet like he is royal
We journey over mountain tops
His throaty shriek can shake dewdrops

Sometimes he settles on my shoulder
When we sit down atop a boulder
I know he’s there until the end
I love my sweet eternal friend.

He’s wise as a horse, but a thousand fold;
Like two hundred dogs, he’s agile and bold
Resilient as twenty human beings;
And his intelligence is never fleeting.

I’m glad I didn’t look in a store
Although they’ve got great pets galore
I never would have found him there,
In Sheetrock walls, stark white and bare

No, my pet was always free
He rose above the tops of trees
Went against the gales of life
Conquered his own inner strife

Indeed, the greatest pet I know
Is none other than my special crow.

- Sarah Lee

Jonathan Bluebird Montgomery is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of Boulder Poetry Scene. The author of Pizzas and MermaidThe Reality Traveler, and the recently released Nine Books (At Once!), he’s been on the Boulder poetry scene since he went to get his MFA at Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School in 2003. You can find more of his work at jonathanbluebirdmontgomery.com