Tag Archives: poems

Edward Harkness: Poems that Listen, Bring Us to Listen

This is a discovery I should have made long ago: Edward Harkness, a poet of place, and so much more, recording solemn and moving histories and keeping an uncommon, quiet faith with the reverence that understands what not to say. I found myself deeply moved by poem after poem. His tone is conversational, elements of the casual somehow imbued with a sense of the sacred. And so one finds truths and openings one otherwise might have missed. He is a teacher, award-winning poet and author of two poetry collections and a number of chapbooks, but most of all a man somehow in touch with his surroundings and aware of both his place and his displacement in them. Let the poetry speak for itself.

Union Creek in Winter

There’s no word for it so far, the word
for what it means to be in love with you
in our sinking world, what it means to hike
through new snow, to hear beneath
the glass of creek ice the flow of winter
percolating its way through the ravine
not quite soundlessly toward lower ground
to join the wild roar of the American River.

The word that means we’ve loved
through the avalanches of our time,
loved while the wars raged, paid for
with our taxes, loved while our loved ones
voted for hatred, for I want the false past I want
what’s coming to me, protected as they’ve been
by their skin white as this very snow draped
on hemlocks in the ravine’s wavering light.

The word that means we’re not alone,
we share that same nature wonder,
for the flicker tapping on a far-off tree,
the delicate calligraphy of a mouse’s
prints along our path, as if Tu Fu
has been here too, who knew, even then,
even in the Tang Dynasty, beauty
leaves behind its faint notations.

The word that means we will go on,
we will follow an earlier trekker’s snowshoe
trail, slog on bundled to keep the chill
from overtaking us, descend again steeply,
then climb again switchbacks above the creek
away from its cold murmurings, to our car
and the long drive back to the war zone
of now. Armed with our little courage,

we must drive straight to the front,
strap on flak jackets and begin the slow
search for survivors, slow search
for the words that might revive them.
Even now we’re feverish to make contact,
to know what to listen for, to learn to hear
those muffled cries from deep in the rubble.
If we knew the words we might save

those most weakened, most in danger of giving up.
If we knew the words we might keep the world,
its rivers, its ice, its bitterroot, its winter wrens,
its hemlocks, its moonlight, its children,
its Shakespeare, its Szymborska, its rosehips,
its green and orange lichens, its Dylan,
its kora players, its humming birds, you,
me, and our Muslim neighbor, Maya, alive.

And this, the title poem of one of his collections:

Saying the Necessary

I read of a Montana man
whose pickup
stalled in the mountains.
Cross-country skiers
found him next spring,
their skis rasping
on the top of his cab
just showing through the snow.
His engine dead, no map,
he’d apparently decided
to wait for help.
His diary calmly records
his life of being lost.
He describes the passing days,
how he rationed his crackers,
an Almond Joy,
built a few small fires at night,
ate his emergency candles,
ice from a pond,
a pine’s green lace of moss.
He hoarded every spark
from his battery.
There’s evidence he wandered
up a nearby ridge.
He might have noticed a marmot,
gold and relaxed on a rock,
or spotted mountain goats
wedged high in grey basalt.
From a pinnacle of broken
lichen-colored scree
he watched the world bend away blue,
rivered with trees.
He might have heard
the whine of a plane
in the next valley,
looking, looking.

Then the cold came.
Frostbite settled the matter
of hiking out.
He wrote detailed accounts
of the weather,
noting the clear, icy air,
little flares of stars
drawing no one’s attention.
Not so frigid this evening.
A later entry read:
Ribbed cirrus clouds moving in.
Then tender goodbyes
to his wife and daughter—
my lilac, my rose.

When the blizzard buried him,
he wrote by his interior lights,
and when the battery failed
he scratched in the dark
a strange calligraphy,
covering the same pages,
the words telegraphic,
saying only the necessary
as he starved.
In the end,
his script grew hallucinatory—
…toy train… …oatmeal…
…farmhouse lights just ahead…—
illegible, finally,
like lines on a heart monitor.
Several pages he tore out and ate.

He must have known
even words wouldn’t save him.
Still, he wrote.
He watched the windshield
go white like a screen,
his hands on the wheel,
no feeling.
He listened to his heart
repeat its constant SOS,
not loudly now,
but steadily—
a stutterer who’s come to love
the sound of his one syllable,
at peace with his inability
to get anything across.
He must have pictured himself
wading through the drifts,
traversing the heartbreaking distance
between voice and any ear,
searching for tracks,
a connector road that leads
down to everyday life.
By glow of moonlight filtered
through snow-jammed windows,
his last act was to place his book,
opened to a page marked Day One,
on the passenger seat beside him.

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Filed under Nature, Poetry, Poets

Remembering Timothy Murphy: 1/10/1951-6/30/2018

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Timothy Murphy, formalist poet of the heart, will be long remembered for his inimitable style and formal mastery, the sheer volume and energy of his creative output, his contributions to the poetry community, his love of hunting and of the land, his open attitude about being both gay and conservative, and his strongly-felt re-conversion to Catholicism in his later years. One can’t easily sum up a life really, but this thoughtful review of his most recent poetry collection, Devotions (North Dakota University Press), helps. As does this obituary. And maybe the best of all is this interview, where Murphy talks about the moment, quite a miraculous one at that, when everything changed. Inspiring, no matter what your point of view on faith or politics. Beyond that, let his poetry speak:

Agape

The night you died, I dreamed you came to camp
to hear confession from an Eagle Scout
tortured by forty years of sin and doubt.
You whispered vespers by a hissing lamp.

Handlers, allowing you to hike with me,
followed us to the Bad Axe waterfront
down a firebreak this camper used to hunt.
Through all I said you suffered silently.

I blamed the authors of my unbelief:
St. Paul, who would have deemed my love obscene,
the Jesuit who raped me as a teen,
the altar boy when I was six, the grief

of a child chucked from Eden, left for dead
by Peter’s Church and all the choirs above.
In a thick Polish accent choked with love,
Te Dominus amat was all you said.

**************
(Notes:
Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, and that night he visited me in a dream. This dream recurred three times. The last time was April 15, 2007—the night Pope Benedict XVI accosted American bishops over the matter of clerical sexual abuse—when this poem came to me in its entirety. I rose and immediately typed it. In every instance the dream was identical, and John Paul’s words were the same. Te Dominus amat is Latin for “God loves you.”— TM)
*******************

”Mizar” and “Alcor” in Winter

Cirrus dispersed. As a black night grew colder,
clearer, I spied the binary in the handle
of the Big Dipper dangling above my shoulder,
a pinprick twinkling by a blinding candle.

Absent the moon, its boreal corona,
I watched the stars rise east of Ellendale,
Guelph and Ludden, then wheel above Verona
and sleeping friends who farm near Englevale.

A thousand miles of road: I’d shunned the pavement
which bears the burdens I no longer ferry,
the cargo of material enslavement.
Six eagles hunted small game on the prairie.

An Arab prince’s fortunes once were measured
by blooded foals, by sons his wives could dandle,
by tributary quatrains to be treasured
and his eyesight: a pinprick by a candle.

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Filed under Formal Poetry, Formal poets, Poetry, Poets, Remembering Poets

New Poem in Petrichor, a Spiffy New E-Zine

The late great poetry venue Jazz Cigarette quit nicotine and transformed into a brand new e-zine, Petrichor, where my poem “Pharma Aesthetica” has been published. It’s a found poem, and a formal poem, composed largely of excerpts from hair care products, and employs rhyme and meter. There are some wonderful poems there and it’s well worth your time to pay a visit.

In fact, I had forgotten about the new name, but happened to read about Petrichor accepting submissions, so checked the site to see if it seemed like a good place to send work and, there to my surprise, my poem. Ah yes…now I remember… And a happy surprise it was too. I enjoyed writing that particular piece very much. So, happy reading. May a light rain and a gentle breeze come your way, along subtle humor and surprising ways of looking at things such as you’ll find in this poetry and visual arts venue.

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Filed under Poetry, Poetry in forms, Publications, Siham Karami, Siham Karami poems, Siham Karami poetry

Mary Cornish’s “Numbers” Brightens a Bad Day

In case there were any gaps left to the many arguments on behalf of poetry, some claiming it has utility of various sorts, not the least of which ought to be uplifting one’s sour mood, I submit this poem by Mary Cornish, who started out as a children’s book illustrator until her hand could no longer draw, at which point, later in life, she began writing poetry. This succeeded, at least with me, in changing my mood, which is saying a lot, plus I was attracted to the title since I love Numbers, but not so much for their utility as for their qualities outside of the box.

Numbers

I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.

I like the domesticity of addition–
add two cups of milk and stir–
the sense of plenty: six plums
on the ground, three more
falling from the tree.

And multiplication’s school
of fish times fish,
whose silver bodies breed
beneath the shadow
of a boat.

Even subtraction is never loss,
just addition somewhere else:
five sparrows take away two,
the two in someone else’s
garden now.

There’s an amplitude to long division,
as it opens Chinese take-out
box by paper box,
inside every folded cookie
a new fortune.

And I never fail to be surprised
by the gift of an odd remainder,
footloose at the end:
forty-seven divided by eleven equals four,
with three remaining.

Three boys beyond their mothers’ call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn’t anywhere you look.

By Mary Cornish

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Filed under Poetry, women poets