My poem “Song of the Bats” is in the Dark Marrow Survivor Issue (March – still catching up), which is in PDF form here. Look for the title listed in the issue. If you enjoy poetry from the dark side, you will definitely love this publication.
My poem “Survival of the Fittest” has been published in the latest issue of Third Wednesday, a fine print publication. An honor to be among such luminaries as Ted Kooser and Susan Rich, and many more fine poets. Their website is here.
November has started out as a busy month for my poetry publications, with three fabulous journals publishing multiple poems each, all now live online for November.
Otoliths, “a magazine of many e-things,” publishes experimental poetry of many varieties with an impressively large volume of work, making it an unusual venue for me, but a good home for these particular 3 poems, one of which is entitled “Ode to Ancient Astronaut Theorists.”
Mojave He(art) is a desert themed journal which, although relatively new, already shows promise with fine poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, and photography that is a cut above. So I am happy to have three poems in its November issue, which explore the desert theme with the Apollo moon landing, a ghazal about longing and time, and a prose poem in a Middle East setting. (Scroll down to my name to find separate links for each poem.)
Please check out all three places, where you’re likely to find much to enjoy!
The Hobo Camp Review Autumn Issue is now live online with my poem, “Hovland, Minnesota.” This is about the actual town in the far north of Minnesota (close to the Canadian border) which is the closest named place on a map to the cabin where my family used to spend summers when I was a child.
The Hobo Camp Review, with its hobo theme, is a place I like to go to often for writing that validates my vagabond spirit, where campfires are home in a temporary world and often the makeshift feels the most permanent. Please check it out!
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
stalled in the mountains.
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
he watched the world bend away blue,
rivered with trees.
He might have heard
the whine of a plane
in the next valley,
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…—
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,
He listened to his heart
repeat its constant SOS,
not loudly now,
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.
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:
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.
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.
On this 4th of July, aka Independence Day, we think — hopefully — about freedom, which should mean, on this of all holidays, freedom from oppression, tyranny, freedom of speech, religion, and the press, freedom which comes from the rule of law, which does NOT mean “law and order” or “police state,” as Trump would have it, but rather means NO ONE is above the law, certainly not the president or any of his cabinet, certainly not members of Congress or the judiciary, all of whom are public servants. With a president who has never acknowledged publicly that he too is subject to the law, who taunts the freedoms made part of the Constitution in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, promoting only the second amendment, which he thinks means everyone must be armed with assault weapons, or at least be able to exercise their “right” to wield such weapons. But then, the history of America has always had its overbearing side.
And no one has expressed this more eloquently than Alicia Ostriker in her breathtaking poem “The History of America.” If America has national treasures, Ms. Ostriker is certainly one of them, having written a lifetime of enduring poetry on the most vital subjects of our time.
The History of America
—for Paul Metcalf
A linear projection: a route. It crosses
The ocean in many ships. Arriving in the new
Land, it cuts through and down forests and it
Keeps moving. Terrain: Rock, weaponry.
Dark trees, mastery. Grass, to yield. Earth,
Reproachful. Fox, bear, coon, wildcat
Prowl gloomily, it kills them, it skins them,
Its language alters, no account varmint, its
Teeth set, nothing defeats its obsession, it becomes
A snake in the reedy river. Spits and prays,
Keeps moving. Behind it, a steel track. Cold,
Permanent. Not permanent. It will decay. This
Does not matter, it does not actually care,
Murdering the buffalo, driving the laggard regiments,
The caring was a necessary myth, an eagle like
A speck in heaven dives. The line believes
That the entire wrinkled mountain range is the
Eagle’s nest, and everything tumbles in place.
It buries its balls at Wounded Knee, it rushes
Gold, it gambles. It buys plastics. Another
Ocean stops it. Soon, soon, up by its roots,
Severed, irrecoverably torn, that does not matter,
It decides, perpendicular from here: escape.
A prior circle: a mouth. It is nowhere,
Everywhere, swollen, warm. Expanding and contracting
It absorbs and projects children, jungles,
Black shoes, pennies, blood. It speaks
Too many dark, suffering languages. Reaching a hand
Toward its throat, you disappear entirely. No
Wonder you fear this bleeding pulse, no wonder.
The discovery of Palestinian-American poet Fady Joudah is something earth-shaking, huge, both indelible and too quickly passing, like the flight of a bird. A practicing physician who devoted significant time to Doctors Without Borders, a man who takes his causes and compassion seriously, he was selected by Louise Glück in 2007 for the Yale Younger Poet Series Prize for The Earth in the Attic. (Did anyone else notice Louise Glück has great taste?) His work as a doctor shows up in his poetry in startling ways. He has also translated two books of Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry, and was a finalist for the 2008 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Among other awards and achievements. Recognition for work such as that below, where truth is shown as something that understands a bludgeon to the head cannot be understood or mitigated by a bludgeon to the head.
And for this month of Ramadan, this poem,
The Tea and Sage Poem
By Fady Joudah
At a desk made of glass,
In a glass walled-room
With red airport carpet,
An officer asked
My father for fingerprints,
And my father refused,
So another offered him tea
And he sipped it. The teacup
Template for fingerprints.
My father says, it was just
Hot water with a bag.
My father says, in his country,
Because the earth knows
The scent of history,
It gave the people sage.
I like my tea with sage
From my mother’s garden,
Next to the snapdragons
She calls fishmouths
Coming out for air. A remedy
For stomach pains she keeps
In the kitchen where
She always sings.
First, she is Hagar
Where tea is loosened.
Then she drops
In it a pinch of sage
And lets it sit a while.
She tells a story:
The groom arrives late
To his wedding
Wearing only one shoe.
The bride asks him
About the shoe. He tells her
He lost it while jumping
Over a house-wall.
Breaking away from soldiers.
Tea with sage
Or tea with mint?
With sage, he says,
Sweet scent, bitter tongue.
She makes it, he drinks.
And for this past month of re-awakened violence in a place called Gaza, where violence is never allowed to sleep, always blamed on those who are killed, or we might say, chopped down. This poem:
By Fady Joudah
Between what should and what should not be
Everything is liable to explode. Many times
I was told who has no land has no sea. My father
Learned to fly in a dream. This is the story
Of a sycamore tree he used to climb
When he was young to watch the rain.
Sometimes it rained so hard it hurt. Like being
Beaten with sticks. Then the mud would run red.
My brother believed bad dreams could kill
A man in his sleep, he insisted
We wake my father from his muffled screams
On the night of the day he took us to see his village.
No longer his village he found his tree amputated.
Between one falling and the next
There’s a weightless state. There was a woman
Who loved me. Asked me how to say tree
In Arabic. I didn’t tell her. She was sad. I didn’t understand.
When she left. I saw a man in my sleep three times. A man I knew
Could turn anyone into one-half reptile.
I was immune. I thought I was. I was terrified of being
The only one left. When we woke my father
He was running away from soldiers. Now
He doesn’t remember that night. He laughs
About another sleep, he raised his arms to strike a king
And tried not to stop. He flew
But mother woke him and held him for an hour,
Or half an hour, or as long as it takes a migration inward.
Maybe if I had just said it.
Shejerah, she would’ve remembered me longer. Maybe
I don’t know much about dreams
But my mother taught me the law of omen. The dead
Know about the dying and sometimes
Catch them in sleep like the sycamore tree
My father used to climb
When he was young to watch the rain stream,
And he would gently swing.
The Whale Road Review has published my review of Cynthia Neely’s chapbook Passing Through Blue Earth. Please check it out, as well as the fine poetry and reviews in this truly excellent site. Well worth your time. Also here is a link to where you can buy a copy of Neely’s award-winning chapbook, selected by the fantastic and illustrious Kwame Dawes, one of my favorite poets too.