Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu



I don't have it, but will be very busy with public health work over the next couple of weeks, perhaps longer.

Stay well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thought for the Day




Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.

-Friedrich von Schiller
German dramatist & poet (1759 - 1805)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wasted Days & Wasted Nights



My plan for the weekend was to finish raking the leaves from the yard. I could have done that, too, had the weekend weather been as it was represented (as late as Thursday night) by our local television stations--75 degrees and sunny. Instead, it rained all weekend--4-6 inches of rain, depending upon where one was in West Michigan––and now the yard is literally flooded. Ducks were swimming around one of our maple trees this morning.

Instead of raking, I spent most of the weekend trying to come up with an idea for a family vacation. We haven't gone anywhere together since I graduated from MFA school, and while I've wandered rather freely to write, Marcia hasn't had a day away since Carlos was born in 2001. But we really can't afford much right now, and even if we could, my "dream vacation" of two weeks in Guatemala researching my novel doesn't seem to interest anyone. We might be able to afford the airfare and the casita (Guatemala is mucho cheapo--probably because it is a bit dicey), but I am not sure what the kids would do, and there is the swine flu problem.

So I have been pouting.

I did give a little speech and a three-poem reading Sunday night at the 20th anniversary party for a meeting I attend. More than a few people were shocked--everyone there knew me, but almost no one knew that I was a writer. The subject has almost never come up in the 18 years I've been attending.

I am way too busy at my day job, and have a raft-load of final papers to grade. With that, however, the semester will be over.

I am anxious to get back to writing, something I haven't done for two weeks or-so. A bit of good news on the writing front would be sweet right now. So, someone, please accept a poem.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Gag Me with a Ginsu Knife; Or Perhaps, a Tomahawk






William Logan: So Not Savage.









Under the title "Samurai Critic," Mark Ford reviews William Logan's Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue (Columbia University Press, 2009) in this Sunday's New York Times Book Review:

“Our Savage Art,” the latest installment in William Logan’s prolonged and rumbustious assault on the state of American poetry, comes furnished with no fewer than nine epigraphs in which the phrase “savage art” appears. One of these is taken from the second chapter of James Fenimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans”: an unsuspecting party of white travelers, including a pair of sisters, is passing through a gloomy forest unaware that they are being secretly observed by “a human visage, as fiercely wild as savage art and unbridled passions could make it.” “A gleam of exultation,” Cooper continues, “shot across the darkly painted lineaments of the inhabitant of the forest, as he traced the route of his intended victims, who rode unconsciously onward.”

At the bottom of some uncharted Adirondack cliff, the ghost of Magua moans a final "No!"



The Real Deal: Wes Studi as Magua.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another Moment with Jim Harrison



DRINKING SONG

I want to die in the saddle. An enemy of civilization
I want to walk around in the woods, fish and drink.

I'm going to be a child about it and I can't help it, I was
born this way and it makes me very happy to fish and drink.

I left when it was still dark and walked on the path to the
river, the Yellow Dog, where I spent the day fishing and drinking.

After she left me and I quit my job and wept for a year and
all my poems were born dead, I decided I would only fish and drink.

Water will never leave earth and whiskey is good for the brain.
What else am I supposed to do in these last days but fish and drink?

In the river was a trout, and I was on the bank, my heart in my
chest, clouds above, she was in NY forever and I, fishing and drinking.


-Jim Harrison

_______________________

I don't so much want a drink this morning, but it's going to be in the seventies today and I would love to be slipping into the Pere Marquette River right about now.

Muchas truchas grandes, as we used to say.

Where is Gary Sorensen when you need him?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Greetings, Earthlings



Happy Earth Day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Status Report



I just watched "In the Electric Mist," a new film that went straight to DVD based on James Lee Burke's "In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead." Tommy Lee Jones is the perfect Dave Robichaux (the protagonist in Burke's series, for those unfamiliar), but otherwise there isn't much of interest in the film.

Tomorrow is the last day of class for the semester. I'll be collecting portfolios, and will then have ten days to submit grades. Perhaps the best thing about the end of the semester is that I will have an opportunity to clean out my car, which has devolved into a rolling file box, locker room, bookcase and four-wheel-drive trash masher. I suspect this is a common problem among adjunct faculty.

Tonight we have rain and the strong possibility that it will be mixed with snow. By Friday, the weather is supposed to be sunny and in the mid-seventies. When this weather is mixed with our sterling economy, it's no wonder that half the people in Michigan are crazier than those proverbial outhouse rats.

A good portion of the remaining populace, of course, is heavily medicated.

Today I also ordered the "new" books by W.S. Merwin and Ruth Stone. I already have Frank Bidart's latest--so I will at last have all of this year's Pulitzer finalists.

Onward.

Monday, April 20, 2009

W.S. Merwin Wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry



This afternoon it was announced that W.S. Merwin won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press, 2008). I like to think that I keep up with what is going on in the poetry world and that I buy a lot of books, but, in the interests of rigorous honesty, must confess that not only do I not have a copy of Merwin's book, I did not even know that it had been published.

Sad, but true.

Thought for the Day



"Mortimer Snerd must have bred five thousand times a day to build that heartland race."

-The writer Tom McGuane (a Michigan boy), when asked to describe the people of the Midwest.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

J.G. Ballard (1930-2009)

Fiction and Diagnosis



I found something remarkable (aside from the story itself, which is excellent) in Drood (Little, Brown and Company, 2009), Dan Simmons' new 771-page doorstopper of a novel about Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and the mysterious Edwin Drood.

On page 45, Wilkie Collins, the narrator of the book, says:

"The bane of my life was––is, and ever shall be–––rheumatical gout. Sometimes it is in my leg. More often it moves to my head, frequently lodging like a hot iron spike behind my right eye. I deal with this constant pain (and it is constant) through strength of personality. And opium taken in the form of laudanum."

Other than the constancy (I do not, thank God, suffer from gout on a constant basis) the headache is a precise description of one of my own frequent symptoms, down to its location and the very words I have used to describe the pain. I had never before associated it with gout. The next time this happens, I will be interested in seeing whether my gout pills work on the headache. Nothing else will make it go away.

The opiates, of course, are not an option.

The New York Times on Older Writers

Friday, April 17, 2009

C-U in C.U.B.A.



The Constant Reader knows that I strongly oppose the Castro regime, and in particular, its suppression of the rights of artists and writers in Cuba. With that said, I have long been persuaded that the American embargo on trade and travel to Cuba is counterproductive to the best interests of the Cuban people, the United States, and the creative communities in both countries. If we can trade with the Chinese government, and have minimal travel restrictions between China and the United States, surely similar policies (in 2009!) ought to govern our relationship with the Castro regime. If we want to liberalize Cuba and push it toward a more democratic and open society, exposure of Cuban society to the full panoply of American culture–– (and our exposure to theirs––seem like necessary steps, particularly given the abject policy failures of the past fifty years. I am therefore very encouraged by the rapid thaw in our relationship with Cuba that has taken place over the past several weeks under the administration of President Barack Obama.

I am hoping for more.

My interest is not entirely altruistic. I have long wanted to travel to Cuba. I also have an (albeit selfish, and no doubt illogical) hope that if Cuba opens to American travel, the tourist and development pressure on Key West will lighten up, and the Florida Keys will again be affordable and welcoming to those who truly love them.

And somewhere, from a warehouse in Havana, I hear a box of Cohiba robustos calling to me, calling ever so quietly. In the immortal words of that good Republican capitalist and Commie fighter, former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, when asked how he could smoke Cuban cigars in spite of the embargo: "Some people call it trading with the enemy. I prefer to think of it as burning his crops to the ground."




_________________________

NOTE: It is not lost on me that much of what I find appealing about Cuba is its isolation from contemporary American culture, and that as soon as Cuba opens again to American travel, much of that attraction will be gone.

Deborah Digges, Poet Who Channeled Struggles, Dies at 59



The author of four well-received poetry collections and two equally well-received memoirs, Ms. Digges was at her death a professor of English at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., outside Boston, where she had taught since 1986. Her poems were widely anthologized and appeared regularly in The New Yorker and other publications.

Known for its penetrating observations and lyrical voice, Ms. Digges’s work — both poetry and prose — was informed by her memories of a Missouri girlhood in a family of 12; her experiences as a young wife and her later struggles with a troubled teenage son; the dissolution of two marriages; and the illness and death of her third husband. But though much of her work was rooted in loss, it was also shot through with sly, trenchant humor and a sustained, fervent passion for the natural world.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Late Night Moment with Jim Harrison



AWAKE

Limp with night fears: hellbore, wolfsbane,
Marlowe is daggered, fire, volts, African vipers,
the grizzly the horse sensed, the rattlesnake
by the mailbox––how he struck at thrown rocks,
black water, framed by police, wanton wife,
I'm a bad poet broke and broken at thirty-two,
a renter, shot by mistake, airplanes and trains,
half-mast hard-ons, a poisoned earth, sun will
go out, car break down in a blizzard,
my animals die, fistfights, alcohol, caskets,
the hammerhead gliding under the boat near
Loggerhead Key, my soul, my heart, my brains,
my life so interminably struck with an ax
as wet wood splints bluntly, mauled into
sections for burning.

-Jim Harrison



_______________________

The poem is from Outlyer and Ghazals by Jim Harrison (1971). The easiest place to find these early poems is in Harrison's The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1998).

The painting is Fall Moon Rising by Russell Chatham.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good News!



Shenandoah accepted two poems from my new manuscript, Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds.

That is such good news!

"Telling the Bees" by Deborah Digges




TELLING THE BEES

It fell to me to tell the bees,
though I had wanted another duty—
to be the scribbler at his death,
there chart the third day's quickening.
But fate said no, it falls to you
to tell the bees, the middle daughter.
So it was written at your birth.
I wanted to keep the fire, working
the constant arranging and shifting
of the coals blown flaring,
my cheeks flushed red,
my bed laid down before the fire,
myself anonymous among the strangers
there who'd come and go.
But destiny said no. It falls
to you to tell the bees, it said.
I wanted to be the one to wash his linens,
boiling the death-soiled sheets,
using the waters for my tea.
I might have been the one to seal
his solitude with mud and thatch and string,
the webs he parted every morning,
the hounds' hair combed from brushes,
the dust swept into piles with sparrows' feathers.
Who makes the laws that live
inside the brick and mortar of a name,
selects the seeds, garden or wild,
brings forth the foliage grown up around it
through drought or blight or blossom,
the honey darkening in the bitter years,
the combs like funeral lace or wedding veils
steeped in oak gall and rainwater,
sequined of rent wings.
And so arrayed I set out, this once
obedient, toward the hives' domed skeps
on evening's hill, five tombs alight.
I thought I heard the thrash and moaning
of confinement, beyond the century,
a calling across dreams,
as if asked to make haste just out of sleep.
I knelt and waited.
The voice that found me gave the news.
Up flew the bees toward his orchards.

-Deborah Digges

There is a memorial service for Deborah Digges today at Tufts University in Boston. I wish I could be there. Her tragic, untimely death is a great loss.


______________________

The woodcut is "The Angry Beekeeper" by Antonio Frasconi (1919- ).

A Moment with Jim Harrison



Do you believe in the supernatural?

Of course I do. Because I receive special instructions from the gods. In America, I have a book called In Search of Small Gods. Do you really expect one God to create 19 billion galaxies? And did you know that one teaspoon of a cosmic black hole weighs 3 billion tons? Think how strong this teaspoon has to be. So, if there are 19 billion galaxies, why can’t I have a soul, even if it is extremely small. As small as a photon, or better yet, as one of my neurons. It never occurred to me not to believe in the Resurrection.

-Jim Harrison, from a recent interview translated from French back to English.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Deborah Digges (1950-2009)

I just heard that one of my favorite poets, Deborah Digges, committed suicide on Friday.

I am beyond shock.

Here's a post I made for one of her poems a couple of years ago:

Simply because this is how life seems at the moment, here's a poem by Deborah Digges, from her wonderful book, Trapeze (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004). Digges was born and raised in Missouri, and now lives in Massachusetts, where she is a professor of English at Tufts University. She also teaches in the low residency MFA program at Vermont College. She is the author of four collections of poetry, including Rough Music (1995) which won the Kinglsey Tufts Prize, and two memoirs: Fugitive Spring (1991) and The Stardust Lounge (2001). She has also collaborated on translations of the poems of Maria Elena Cruz Varela.

Deborah Digges' poems are lovely and broken and poignant and whole. If you haven't read her work, seek it out. You won't be disappointed.



DAMASCUS

Split by the light, wrought golden, one of a thousand cars stunned
sun blind,
crawling westward, I remembered a day I stopped for an old snapper,
as huge as, when embracing ghosts, you round your arms.
Who did I think I was to lift him like a pond,
or ballast from the slosh of hull swamp, tarred as he was, undaunted,
that thrashed and hissed at the worst place to try to cross,
where the road plunged east, the lumber trucks
swept daily down from the blue hills
past winter-ravaged toys blanching by makeshift crosses.
An old sea shimmered in the asphalt.
Spared over the mirage to ancient footpaths, he lunged again,
and spit, turning his oddly touching head toward the project
of the steep embankment. Such were the times.
Hardwired, the way. Cross here or die. Die crossing.

Gout, What is it Good For?



Absolutely nothing! I have no idea how I am going to stumble through work today.

Painfully, I suppose.




The title of my next collection?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Frederick Seidel




Tone, but also subject, has been central to what perplexes some readers. A significant feature of Seidel’s work is how it has lengthened the list of topics worthy of serious poetic scrutiny.

Frederick Seidel, "an elegant man of 73 with an uncommonly courtly manner" is set to release a volume of collected poems. Read all about it in today's New York Times Magazine.*



_________________

I spent the greater part of the weekend accounting to the government, and now have papers to grade. Monday will be a very busy day at my day job. I do hope you are having a good Easter.


__________________

*"Laureate of the Louche," by Wyatt Mason, New York Times Magazine, April 12, 2009, p.24

Friday, April 10, 2009

These Just In


This afternoon I picked up two new books of poems I had ordered through The Bookman, our local bookstore, which I am glad to say is up and running again after the fire. The first is Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove (W.W. Norton, 2009), which tells the story of George Polgreen Bridgetower (1780-1860), a half-African, half-European musician who was a contemporary of Haydn and Beethoven. I heard Dove talking about the book on NPR and it sounded interesting for many reasons, not least (to me) being the opportunity to study how Dove balances lyric and narrative as she tells the story of a very real, though somewhat obscure, historical figure.

The second book is Jim Harrison's In Search of Small Gods (Copper Canyon Press, 2009). I am always happy to have a new collection from Harrison, who is primarily known as a fiction writer, but whose true and lasting gift, in my opinion, is as a poet.



Here's a short poem from Harrison's book that is particularly timely, since today is both Good Friday and a full moon.

GOOD FRIDAY

Release yourself. Life is a shock to the system.
It was to the small javelina ever flattening
on the yellow line on a hot afternoon.
Release yourself. You've always doubted cars,
remembering when trains and horses were enough
and boats kept our ocean skies unmarred.
Release yourself. Your doubt is only the patina
of shit the culture paints on those in the margins.
Tomorrow the full moon is on Good Friday,
the blind face of the gods who can't see us anymore.

-Jim Harrison

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Wednesday

I have a hearing this morning, so I will be morphing my own self.

Onward.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Must...Use...Powers...for...Good!




Okay, okay. I'll...I'll be all right now.

What Would Wallace Stevens Say?



This morning, Victoria Chang is frustrated because she's been working on being a famous writer since, like, second grade, and now EVERYONE thinks they can become a famous writer--just like (snaps finger) that!* You know?

Even LAWYERS!

Unfair!

____________________

*Give or take 10,000 hours.

The photo is of Wallace Stevens, New York Law School, Class of 1903. I suspect that Wally is several thousand hours past the Age of Innovation in this photograph.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Lame Question(s) of the Day



Question: And poets, what older poets, say past 50? Or some other arbitrary number, is (sic) really still innovating? Is it wrong for me to even ask that question? They could be innovating in their own way, or say, morphing their own selves, but perhaps from the outer perspective they are not (or may not have ever been) innovating.

Answer: Not us, Victoria! Just snug up our Depends and roll us out the door of the Old Folks' Home. We'll try not to drool on your amazing books as we read our non-innovative, stupid little love poesies.

________________

The painting is Water Lilies, "innovated" by Claude Monet in 1906, when he was 66 years-old.

Thought for the Day



I would rather believe God did not exist than believe that He was indifferent.

-George Sand, Impressions et Souvenirs (1896)


____________________

The painting is George Sand (1838) - by Eugène Delacroix

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Progress Note

I often tell my comp students that if they can't write effective transitions, they should at least be well-organized and break their longer papers into sections. I seem to be testing that method in Project X. I am on page 26, just beginning Chapter 3. I have characters, a setting to negotiate them through, and the dialogue is good. A lot of the description and poeticizing will have to come during revision.

...

I just took the dogs out, and found three deer staring at me from the trees, just a few feet beyond the edge of the yard. The dogs were so intent on their doggy tasks and the deer blended so effectively into the brush––I was the only one who noticed them.

...

We landed in Honduras aboard an unmarked, olive-drab DC-3.

Hoorah!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Orpheus, Gathering the Trees



Orpheus, Gathering the Trees
-The Metamorphoses of Ovid, Book X,
Lines 86-110

When love died the second time,
he sang at dawn in the empty field
and the trees came to listen.
A little song for the tag alder,
the fire cherry, the withe-willow.
The simple-hearted ones that come quickly
to loneliness.
Then he sang for the mulberry
with its purple fruit,
for the cedar and the tamarack.
He sang bel canto for the quaking aspen
and the stave oak;
something lovely for the white pine,
the fever tree, the black ash.
From the air he called the sparrows
and the varieties of wrens.
Then he sang for a bit of pestilence––
for the green caterpillars,
for the leaf worms and bark beetles.
Food to suit the flickers and the crows.
So that, in the wood lot,
there would always be empty places.
So he would still know loss.

-Greg Rappleye

Why I Have Gone Back to Meetings


I needed to read this:

So I have to ask myself, what am I willing to lose for this relapse? Am I willing to lose my husband? My job? The small world of good friends and neighbors I have created around me? My self-respect when I look in the mirror and realize I have to climb once more from the depths of addiction? Relapsing might come easy, but how many recoveries do I have in me? That’s why I’m giving up on the top five relapse pass — even the time-traveling, body-swapping Hunter S. Thompson relapse fantasy. Because, when the weasels close in, I am way better equipped to handle them sober.

I recently saw Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film (2006), the documentary about The Good Doctor in life and in death. Anyone suffering from "euphoric recall" will want to pay careful attention to the emptiness in Thompson's eyes near the end.

Poem



ALONG THE CREEK ROAD

If one of my workshop students wrote this poem, what criticisms could I possibly make? One might say that although the language itself is relatively free of obviously trite constructions, the poem itself is one big cliché––a prime example of the late twentieth-century “dead animal” poem, the most famous example probably being William Stafford’s “Traveling through the Dark.” In the dead animal poem, the speaker (usually a white, liberal-humanist, upper-middle-class speaker, as far as one can tell) reflects poignantly on his or her experience with some dead animal or other (in Stafford's poem, it’s a pregnant deer that's been hit by an auto), implying in the course of doing so that he or she is also commenting on a set of issues that pertain to the human condition.

-K. Silem Mohammad

Just daylight, a morning in July.
I was riding my bicycle, something I am told
I must do for my heart. Yes, I saw the fawn come
up the path from the creek.
I stopped, steadied my bike, tried to stay quiet.
If it ran into traffic, I would not be the cause.
Then the fawn, spooked by something
on the dark path, broke for the southbound lane.
The car, a blue sedan (there was no time to swerve),
hit the fawn as it jumped––so high, for a fawn, the jump alone
startled me––banging its young body on the windshield;
the car, tossing the fawn into the grass across the road.
But the fawn did not die.
It rose and skittered into the trees, and the blue sedan,
which had only scorched the black of its tires,
scarcely paused before driving on, and I,
heart pounding, certain I could write this
for all of us, pedaled toward home.

-Greg Rappleye

Bon Appetit!



The May, 2009, issue of Bon Appetit contains a recipe for Asparagus Salad with Parmesan Dressing from Gracie's, a restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, where Elliot (the first born) is doing an internship. Elliot is a student in the culinary arts program at Johnson & Wales in Providence. As soon as our local asparagus pops (a modest claim: the asparagus grown in West Michigan is the best in the world), I am going to try this recipe--it sounds delicious!

Elliot is having a great experience at Gracie's. He says that the food, preparation, and service at the restaurant are amazing.






Thursday, April 02, 2009

Displacement by Leslie Harrison




The very best part of the day was going to my mailbox this morning and finding an Advance Reading Copy of Leslie Harrison's Displacement (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt /Mariner Books, 2009), which was selected by Eavan Boland as 2008 winner of the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize.

In a lovely and insightful introductory essay to Displacement, Boland writes: "There is a poise and presence about this book--and a poignance about its traffic between secrecy and disclosure--that allows it to have unusual force, and a true grip on its reader. This is a real lyric journey: and the reader will take it too."

I scanned through the book over lunch, and was knocked out by these poems. I can't wait to spend some serious time with this book, and I will definitely have more to say about Leslie and her work.

Displacement is already available for order on Amazon, and I am sure your local bookstore would also be happy to order it. The publication date is (if memory serves me) set for mid-July.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Poetry Lunch



From left: Judith Minty, Robert VanderMolen, Jack Ridl and Greg Rappleye, at the legendary Tip-a-Few Tavern, Grand Haven, Michigan (March 31, 2009).

LETTER 10

Even though the plants are only a foot tall,
you, our sixteen-year-old baby, dream them ripe
with fruit, the tomatoes scarlet in their fullness.
And you come flushed from sleep to tell this wealth,
how each night you root through rich soil
to reap the harvest of your first garden.
Nineteen years ago we dreamed your sister,
the child not of our own mating, although we tried,
who came to us, all rosy, at seven weeks
and slept cribbed in the room below ours.
Three times in those first days
we woke at night, eyes blind like moles
against the lamplight, and groped the sheets,
palms flailing in the empty air between us.
We meant to find her when she cried, to make
her in that space of barren bed
our child, the fruit of love and holding,
before we opened to each other and the space
between us suddenly remembered empty, before we fled
the stairs and soothed the dream
and counted soil for what it was
and took the harvest and felt lucky.

-Judith Minty, from Letters to My Daughters, Mayapple Press, Reprinted in Dancing the Fault, University of Central Florida Press/Orlando, 1991


SAND

Water muscling to shore at twilight,
Muscling over her ribs, the water so warm
For September. Thomas Paine said,
We just couldn't stay boys
(regarding the colonists)
Or something to that effect.
Ladybugs gather, covering a peach,
Gulls screech about the deserted lighthouse.
How agreeable to discover
Someone loves you, or even later,
That you've become a fixture
In someone's stable of influences.
As you adjust your sunglasses and sip
Your merlot—a robust season
Of potatoes and cod, when generosity
Was more than a glimmer of an inn's lights.
All this time without a plan or reliable income.
She drives like Barney Oldfield
Says her Dad, arm on my shoulder,
Approaching dust on the beach track.
Just when I thought I was strongest
And most personable.

-Robert VanderMolen, from Water, Michigan State University Press, 2009



THE GARDENERS

In the spring she
drops the seeds, he
covers them. He
digs up the weeds.
She cuts the flowers.
She takes the blooms
and puts them in
every room. They soar
red from the tables, sprout
yellow from the shelves,
hang purple from
the ceiling, blue
from the edges of
lampshades. Clusters
of flowers sit in
tiny pots on every
windowsill, in open
cupboards, behind
the sink. He stands
beside her as she tosses
all the wilted leaves
into a rusty bucket.
This house is heaven's
door, the air gathering
the bashful smells of
blossoms, roots, cut
stems, wet dirt, new
and rotting leaves.

-Jack Ridl, from Broken Symmetry, Wayne State University Press, 2007


NOT THAT HAPPINESS

Not bluebirds nesting in a wooden box
nailed to your picket fence.
No geraniums in the planter, but yarrow
where the trees begin, hawkweed
in a clearing near the black locust
and loosestrife—how you are helpless
against its beauty—everywhere
along the creek. No friends anymore
who ask about dinner, but a boy who woke
last week, singing counterpoint
to the wrens. To read, We are without
consolation or excuse
, and remember
a sack of peaches from a roadside stand;
hunger the day you stopped for them.
Maxine Sullivan singing “Blue Skies.”
In winter, lullabies sung for the dead.
The shoulder roast simmering in red wine
with potatoes and sweet onions
on a day when the rain begins; your heart
sliding toward the sinkhole of November.
Who is not captive to some small happiness?
To love a field you can never own—the pink mist
of knapweed, the blue of chicory.
Or the heron that settles in the neighbor’s pond
and croaks through the last of your dreams.
You startle awake, patting your head, glad
that you are not a minnow, darting
among the muddy reeds. How it comes around,
this happiness, like a landlord sniffing out the rent.
Not what you ordered—pennywhistles, cellophane hats,
those hand-crank noisemakers—but the happiness
that finds you, scrawls a receipt, says,
“You paid for this,” whatever happiness is.

-Greg Rappleye, from Figured Dark, University of Arkansas Press, 2007