Kyle Dargan is Managing Editor of Callaloo and Distinguished Adjunct-in-Residence at American University. His debut collection of poems, The Listening, was awarded the 2003 Cave Canem Prize, and his forthcoming book, Bouquet of Hungers, will be published in late 2007 by the University of Georgia Press. His poems and non-fiction have appeared in such publications as Denver Quarterly, The Newark Star-Ledger, Ploughshares, and Shenandoah.
We are pleased to offer six of Mr. Dargan's poems, selected by our new poetry editor, Lauren Rooker.
Recurring Dream of My Twenties
The grounds at war again. I still breathe
by the grace of a wild green
horse—a landslide of hoof and muscle
—whose sheen seduces rain
from explosion-pocked skies. The haze of falling
water presses against war’s fog
until the mist around me is all
the snipers can slay.
Our daily route,
we bring new word to the front
line and return with heaps of shattered man
tied down to the mustang’s hips.
The more fighting, the more adrenaline
thaws from fear into joy and our green
and brown blur—a man’s gut against
a horse’s bowed spine—is the music of being
more than surviving, of moving
too fast to smell the death we tow or read
the meticulously rolled notes from generals
detailing how more are to be felled.
~The Office Lounge—Bloomington, IN
Here’s to backriffs, the Japanese, naval
baseball caps, pack-a-day rasp, thanking god
for being a boy, a country, tonight (no liquor
sold on Sundays), cracking the fire
exit, the Beethoven cellular opus
stubborn as a canker sore, Tom (going once,
going twice…), contagious slow dancing
in the kitchen entrance, yellow tint spilling through
the white lyrics, 80’s catalogues, hands colliding
a beat too late, contemplating Lou Rawls,
forearm hair, STIHL patches, stars
and bars pulsing on pick-up windows
in the dirt lot, Indiana, Johnny
Cash and believing
that the lord was on their side, sunset
drawl, three-drink-makeovers, (instrumental
break), men in each other’s blank
embrace, cigarette burns
and no pain, Bette Midler
and chorus mentality, stripes
really making you feel thinner,
playing the air guitar like a penis
and redmen singing western, the last pair
of Levi’s stitched in the states,
America the plaid, saliva forgotten and the soldiers
coming home. Maybe next Wednesday I sing.
A shame we all enter the world dressed
provocatively. Barely hair-clad
like bodies that lead eyes
to bear false witness—
our Ls so misplaced, arteries mis-
wire and pump to the groin
blood meant for the heart.
* * *
Who are we to judge whole-
some arousal, the like which signs sex
with child births embedded in the commercial
breaks (and now we return to—a baby,
a family already in progress)?
* * *
Years after we never kissed, I discovered
both my fourth grade girlfriend and I wondered
if you raised a man and a woman
in a white box closed to the world
would they know to know each other. Of course,
they wouldn’t—we are not to be piqued
until He says “go forth.” Thus bless
the censors, their black bars and silence
purging our static, the cataract-
cloudy world, until it’s clear enough
to discern that leveling whisper: “Yes, you
and you, I say it is now safe to rise.”
Let us open to the Book of Is,
which is a book of the unraveling
body, of sleepy threats from air and water
to return. It is a book of sandpaper and awe
never meant for tragically ordinary eyes.
We will read by turning
wrists: hold hands now, recall
blood’s cadence in palms,
the umpteenth coming
of man as sound, as string whose timbre
makes brief, untrained eavesdroppers
of Saints. In our story for today:
God spoke these words
to man—“I am changed”—man called
to God—“I cannot”—and in rage
toppled all sundials’ talonous spikes,
laid each tree supine to leave no mark
of the sun or its coded passing. Man could not bear
knowing time, how long he must live under a new pain,
a pact aside from the simple first—more
than grunted lectures from gravity,
from suffocating clay to the hard
dust of his bones. By night, fixed notes
against the sky decomposed into the first few
bars of a god-silent era. What sense
man had was left in the hands—
the roughness of the word made muscle
and hide, to be infused in dead-
wood and stone. His task,
to begin building the book,
thinking it good. He would not finish.
2. Purgatory Flanked by Levees
It stays these forms in a posture of falling,
A pose named for a national bird
Of prey. Forms that float like people
Though they are merely skins
Buoyant with lack of Is. When the water exhausts,
Those who saw no exit will be carried
Into tomorrow as trees—a second life
With the same unmistakable fate. Those
Who stayed to wade with loved ones, to end
Together, they knit a new DNA—a genetic knot
Insoluble in the blare of warnings or wind.
Those who gave speeches—the gyre
Safely north of low relief lands—
Their sons and grandchildren will return
To carve crest into the new trees, charged,
As the powerful are, to conquer
Time. Cut letters will scar in the bark—
Thick as lips at their edges. Trees will speak
The land’s old mumblings, a frequency
Beasts catch in their teeth and hairs. The people
Will not know to listen to the trees whose expression-
Less, beckoning arms take centuries to finish
An ominous wave. A godless process,
Trunks will be quartered, transmuted into homes
Trice the size of those once owned
By the bodies who were people
But now become trees brushed onto the flat pulp
Of the Book of Is. This is a verse of one-eyed storms
which never lose a staring match with man.
~En route, Virginia
Caption: south, the open
south where interstates have yet to graze: pity
those fields, stalks lucid as though
anesthetized by their own green.
Always there is a lone player, a tree
set center—tee for a titan’s game of golf.
At the longer pit stops, I chat up
Seven Eleven clerks or old Daisys
selling flowers from plaster buckets.
I ask, an anthropologist fleeing
lands of asphalt, for the myth,
field mojo or luck embedded in the common
landscape. The common response, can’t say
I’ve noticed. Clouds scatter birthmarks
on the earth while the trees stand frank,
proud likenesses of demi-gods—proud
even after thunder swallows itself
and a strike has left
the bark split and sizzling.
Gazelle Theory 1
You’re a gazelle, a gazelle. You’re a gazelle . . .
And here comes a great, big lion!
~from Warner Bros. cartoon
In a field of unharvested hands
chapped by winds of disbelief, an idea
named “Black”—a dark charcoal smudge
against the plains—grazes. The idea,
it shifts its weight in slow-
shutter blurs—wispy trunk
spread about in blots of was and is.
The field of hands preys on the idea’s
afterimages, devours each new and fleeting
form as though gobbling husks of light.
the idea gorges then flees—
careful not to rest
its soft hooves too long
lest a print be left
for those even hungrier to follow.
This winter, we feature the new work of two poets, Karen Updike, who has been writing brilliantly for decades, and Laruen Rooker, a young poet of great promise.
Karen Updike's latest book, This Holding On, This Letting Go, has just been released by Fireweed Press (P.O. Box 482, Madison, WI 53701-0482) She taught high school and later creative writing to older adults. Her previous books are Off Riding (Fireweed, 1989) and Writers Have No Age (Haworth Press) which she co-authored.
Lauren Rooker is a graduate of the University of Virginia and received her MFA from New York University. She is currently working parttime facilitating arts expression with Magdalene House, Nashville, TN. Her first manuscript, Virginia Clay, awaits publication.
I Wish For My Own Bring-Far-Near-Glass
because we move, you and I, as if under water,
blurred with day dreams and with sleep,
calling to each other across great distances,
our messages aborted because we do not listen.
But at tonight's musical I marveled to see
a man I know was deaf from birth avidly
watch his son sign for him the songs they came
to hear his grandson sing.
And think how long the prodigal's father
must have been watching for his son's return
for it says it was from afar that he first glimpsed
his son on the horizon, returning home
and it is from afar that the Inuit's wife scans the snow
with their ancient bring-far-near-glass
reading the message her husband paces out for her
to the right, then to the left of his dog sled
as clearly as if it were black script agains the snow
so that she understands he has with him a guest
and rises to thaw a third piece of fish
near their brass oil lamp.
Three Jolly Horsemen Went Out For A Ride One Night
A new moon hung above the tree fringe
like an orange slipper so we chose trails
where we continued to see it against the darkening sky
but when we emerged into a long unmowed meadow
what we came upon were fireflies, millions of them,
a shower of orange entities spilled from the moon's shoe.
Scientists I asked called it their aggregation display,
an orgy of delegates convened in sexual congress.
But I like to think that shower of sparks came from Thor himself,
striking his mighty hammer on the immense anvil of the earth,
bedecking with one blow the spiking blue stem before us.
And because the plain field now emitted the kind of holy light
artists show arising from mangers, or preceding angels at annunciations,
we reined in abruptly and stared at the transformed land so lone
the afterimages streaked and blurred like flashing comets.
Finally, because the horses chewed their bits and pawed, we plunged,
as if diving into a glinting coral sea, into the ignited meadow where
fireflies lit upon the horse's bridle bands and ear tips like jewels,
tangled in their swishing tails, and flashed around their fetlocks,
eventually adorning our own hair and heels as we parted the long grasses,
electric horesemen now, elevating into a star studded ngiht.
On Disappearing Cloaks
"The cloaks we had wrapped about our essentialselves were wearing thin."
If growing old means showing more and more
of our essential selves, let me hasten the process!
Let me find the rip cord, and the courage to use it!
Let me unravel all ruse, all hypocrisy
by which we keep others form knowing us
and us from knowing ourselves.
Let the nap be worn away, let the patterns emerge,
etched and luminescent, like flowers
in a prized Persian carpet.
Let the cloak become, not shabby, but transparent.
Let our spirits glow, let everyone know
that what they see is what in fact we are.
Get away, grim reaper, don't take me yet,
I am not ready for harvesting!
My knees click, my hip joint stick,
My toes creak and hesitate on hikes,
But swing your scythe someplace else.
Or rather, don't brandish it at all.
You have done enough for one lifetime,
Hurling at close friends cataracts and cancers,
Ruptured appendices, cruel lymphomas.
I am not ready for harvesting!
Hide your grimace in your ragged sleeve,
Make your solitary way down that other lane.
Wield your blade on dead trees or fields of wheat,
Go sweep cobwebs fromt he night.
For heaven's sake, get a life.
I used to feel light without heat
And slide frictionless through uncut grass.
Then my body was a pink ribbon unfolding,
Now I’m the color of dust.
Chameleon and toad, wren and field mouse, man and woman—
I neither liked nor disliked.
We never spoke, but once, wrapped in the mulberry tree,
I heard the woman laugh and thought
It was my throat opening.
I curled in the cradle of her neck to sleep,
My diamond head beside her ear.
When Satan entered me my mind went blank—
I woke in the stone wall’s cold shadow
And watched the sun die for the first time.
EXIT 118 B
Dappled road ahead, dappled road behind,
Car lights flash a code I can’t read.
Charlottesville: three and a half miles.
Night’s hand slides over the valley’s yawn,
Soon I’ll sneak under its skin to eat
And wake to a new order—every scrap of landscape
Smelling more itself in spite of winter.
In May my body tells me where to go:
Follow the wet air trail, let the dogwood be your lamp
But tonight I can’t separate what belongs to trees
From what belongs to sky, except for a few stars—
Tricksters I don’t trust to guide me home.
Down on my belly I slither back. Throw me a line,
I say, Teach me to skywrite one my kin will read,
Hook my tongue to Virginia clay.
What little light enters here doesn’t reach me:
I sleep locked into myself, head tucked under
My body’s thick coil.
Day after day the only hunt is in the mind:
Quiet in the grass, pulse of an approach,
Sudden sink into live meat, slick fur,
Caress of rabbit ears or squirrel tail
Along my esophagus wall,
Brief pleasure of a second heartbeat.
Housecat, lamb, wolf-pack—I’m a glutton
In my dreams: there’s nothing I can’t swallow—
A human head singing in my throat.
When I wake I break my skin on stone
And slide free. My new rattle—
Its red eye gleams at the end of me.
In the kitchen in the half-light you knock
Against my heart—what can I do?
I can’t turn you away, nor can I safely
Open the door and invite you in.
I put on a record, I wash dishes,
A rosebush scrapes against the window.
How many nights did I pace this floor
With you on my hip, your hot red head wet
Against my chest? How many nights
Did I boil a bottle or soak a compress?
How many nights did I strip you down
And dip you in a tub of ice, waiting
For your fever or the day to break,
For you to sleep or your father to wake
And give me some relief? Now you’ve other needs
But I’ve no other know-how. I buried you once
And haven’t the strength to do it again.
Your father’s in the barn, go talk to him.
Autumn's Featured Poet: Billy Collins
Former Poet Laureate Billy Collins has managed to become that rarest of contemporary Americans, a a poetry superstar. He's famous enough so that actor Bill Murray introduced him to a sold-out performance at Lincoln Center in Washington.
Imagine, a big crowd turning out to hear a person read poetry!
People who otherwise wouldn't read verse seem comfortable with Collins. Even my friend Matt, an accountant and self-acknowledged poetry-phobic has a volume of Billy's poems.
Critics love Collins as well. This means he has accomplished another remarkable feat: winning the adulation of both tough reviewers and the general population.
When you read almost any one of his poems, you can see why. Here is a selection of six:
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
Baudelaire considers you his brother,
and Fielding calls out to you every few paragraphs
as if to make sure you have not closed the book,
and now I am summoning you up again,
attentive ghost, dark silent figure standing
in the doorway of these words.
Pope welcomes you into the glow of his study,
takes down a leather-bound Ovid to show you.
Tennyson lifts the latch to a moated garden,
and with Yeats you lean against a broken pear tree,
the day hooded by low clouds.
But now you are here with me,
composed in the open field of this page,
no room or manicured garden to enclose us,
no Zeitgeist marching in the background,
no heavy ethos thrown over us like a cloak.
Instead, our meeting is so brief and accidental,
unnoticed by the monocled eye of History,
you could be the man I held the door for
this morning at the bank or post office
or the one who wrapped my speckled fish.
You could be someone I passed on the street
or the face behind the wheel of an oncoming car.
The sunlight flashes off your windshield,
and when I look up into the small, posted mirror,
I watch you diminish—my echo, my twin—
and vanish around a curve in this whip
of a road we can't help traveling together.
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.
Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.
And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.
Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.
And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.
Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page
A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."
|Another Reason Why I Don't Keep A Gun In The House
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,
and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.
When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton
while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.
You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.
|| What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?
It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside--
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks,
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake.
But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.
No, it's all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles--
each a different height--
are singing in perfect harmony.
So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt--
frog at the edge of a pond--
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches.
Summer's Featured Poet: David Whyte (www.davidwhyte.com)
Poet David Whyte grew up among the hills and valleys of Yorkshire, England. An Associate Fellow at Templeton College and Said Business School at the University of Oxford, he is one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of organizational development, where he works with many American and international companies. The author of five books of poetry, he holds a degree in Marine Zoology and has traveled extensively, including working as a naturalist guide and leading anthropological and natural history expeditions. He brings this wealth of experiences to his poetry, lectures and workshops.
In organizational settings, using poetry and thoughtful commentary, he illustrates how we can foster qualities of courage and engagement; qualities needed if we are to respond to today’s call for increased creativity and adaptability in the workplace. He brings a unique and important contribution to our understanding of the nature of individual and organizational change.
In addition to his five volumes of poetry, David Whyte is the author of The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, published by Doubleday/Currency, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, published by Riverhead Books, an audio lecture series and an album of poetry and music. He lives with his family in the Pacific Northwest.
About poetry, Whyte has written:
Poetry is a break for freedom. In a sense all poems are good; all poems are an emblem of courage and the attempt to say the unsayable; but only a few are able to speak to something universal yet personal and distinct at the same time; to create a door through which others can walk into what previously seemed unobtainable realms, in the passage of a few short lines.
In addtion three of his poems, please also note a fascinating COMMENTARY, from Mr. Whyte (below - post poems)
SLIGO GLEN: WALKING OUT OF SILENCE
...So that you suddenly realized
you were given
the complete and utter gift
of your own transparency,
the revelation of your
own exact boundary with
between silence and speech
the line you must cross
to give yourself
while saving yourself,
the gleam in your heart
and your eye,
another sun rising,
the old memories alive
after a long night of absence
and the world again
All The True Vows
All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.
There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.
Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don't turn your face away.
Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.
Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen
nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.
By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.
Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,
it wants you to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.
in this place
no one can hear you
and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,
that way you'll find
what is real and what is not.
I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.
Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
for the first time
after all these years
in my own voice,
before it was too late
to turn my face again.
"All the True Vows" from The House of Belonging by David Whyte. ÊCopyright © 1997, 2004 by David Whyte. ÊUsed by permission of the author and Many Rivers Press (www.davidwhyte.com) ÊAll rights reserved.
Loaves and Fishes
This is not the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.
Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.
This is the time
People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.
from The House of Belonging
Thoughts from David Whyte, Fall, 2005
Two hundred years ago, William Blake worked in his engraving shop etching planes of metal with acid in the same manner in which he wrote: with a kind of burning intensity. In his own words, Melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.
He wanted to see, not only beneath inherited artistic surfaces of his time, but beneath the brutal surface of the Georgian London in which he lived. He wished to see beneath glittering surfaces; a wish that was seen at the time as a deep form of insanity. He championed not only child chimney sweeps and infants indentured to textile machines, but wild creatures with no human voice of their own. His language brooked no defenses. A robin redbreast in a cage, puts all heaven in a rage. He was ahead of his time; a harbinger of future sanities that we now, almost, take for granted. His social concerns were all part of a greater artistic vision. We look back now and hear his voice as one of the very few sane voices in a very, very insane society.
We might look at our own time and ask ourselves what particular form of insanity we live with that future generations would look on with disbelief. Many of the massive imbalances of our time are becoming so clear to us that we can no longer turn away. The forgotten poor of America herded into the New Orleans dome. The dispossessed of Africa just a short commute from the bond dealing floors of London.
As individuals, we see elements and dynamics that seem to have no fit together. Even the most ordinary life seems to need a kind of imaginative personal artistry, one such as Blake possessed, to hold all of these conflicting dynamics together. We wonder if we are up to it. We are adolescents, with an adolescent political leadership, entering an adult world of consequences that we did not necessarily wish upon ourselves.
I had a very humbling and very adolescent experience earlier this year, through an artistic residency in Tacoma, attempting to put the art of poetry into a new and different form - glass. Glass in all its forms: Molten glass. Blown glass. Cast, solid glass. Glass to be worked with slowly and painstakingly over days and then broken and shattered and quickly swept away. Glass to be burnt and seared by; glass to be sweated and muttered over; glass to be held up to the light and almost reluctantly admired. I longed for the utter simplicity of pen and paper, of fingers typing and a laptop keyboard. But no, it was glass, glass and glass.
Holding disparate elements together at molten temperatures, coaxing and pampering them as they cooled, I had to learn, and learn quickly, in the company of some very accomplished glass artists, how things held together through astonishing variations of fluidity and temperature.
The central insight was that there was almost always a way, despite my asking the glass workers to do things they had never contemplated doing, with often unfamiliar materials. There was always a trick, a method, a way that pleased the elements and in the end, the eye and the imagination. Out of dozens and dozens of attempts we emerged with just a few good precious pieces, but more especially with very, very precious and unforgettable images. The poetry broke through some invisible barrier at high temperature, alive and shimmering in the glass at 1500 degrees, glowing and revealing infinities in ways that would have made Blake very glad of heart.
I think of the molten flowing realities of our time. The brittle nature of each of us when we cool and become static. The way there is a trick to everything. Even perhaps, to negotiating our present difficulties and creating a future human society more at ease with itself and natural creation, holding all kinds of elements together we never imagined possible. I think of the central metaphor of artistry; the ability of human beings to form an image on a page, in glass, or on canvas that will hold together all the disparate images of their lives, no matter how diverse. I think also of the way, no matter our calling, each of us must learn a way to hold our individual artistry and integrity while risking ourselves bodily in society, as we see Blake did, for a future, others said, it was insanity even to imagine.
Featured Poet for Spring: Mark Jarman
Mark Jarman, is one of America's finest and most accomplished poets. He is the author of numerous collections: To the Green Man (Sarabande, 2004); Unholy Sonnets (2000); Questions for Ecclesiastes, which won the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Black Riviera (1990), which won the 1991 Poets' Prize; Far and Away (1985); The Rote Walker (1981); and North Sea (1978). In 1992 he published Iris, a book-length poem.
His poetry and essays have been published widely in such periodicals and journals as American Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, The Hudson Review, The New Yorker, Poetry, and Southern Review.
He is professor of English at Vanderbilt University. National Literary Review is pleased to present this selection of four of his poems, all previously published.
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"God is in the details."
In which of these details does God inhere?
The woman's head in the boy's lap? His punctured lung?
The place where she had bitten through her tongue?
The drunk's truck in three pieces? The drunk's beer,
Tossed from the cooler, made to disappear?
The silk tree whose pink flowers overhung
The roadside and dropped limp strings among
The wreckage? The steering column, like a spear?
Where in the details, the cleverness of man
To add a gracenote God might understand,
Does God inhere, cold sober, thunderstruck?
I think it's here, in this one: the open can
The drunk placed by the dead woman's hand,
Telling her son, who cried for help, "Good luck."
From Unholy Sonnets, Poems by Mark Jarman, published by Story Line Press, 2000. Copyright 2000 by Mark Jarman. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Is nothing real but when I was fifteen,
Going on sixteen, like a corny song?
I see myself so clearly then, and painfully--
Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform
Behind the candy counter in the theater
After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically
To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me,
Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's
Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt.
Is that all I have to write about?
You write about the life that's vividest.
And if that is your own, that is your subject.
And if the years before and after sixteen
Are colorless as salt and taste like sand--
Return to those remembered chilly mornings,
The light spreading like a great skin on the water,
And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges,
And--what was it exactly?--that slow waiting
When, to invigorate yourself, you peed
Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth
Crawl all around your hips and thighs,
And the first set rolled in and the water level
Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck
The water surface like a brassy palm,
Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed.
Yes. But that was a summer so removed
In time, so specially peculiar to my life,
Why would I want to write about it again?
There was a day or two when, paddling out,
An older boy who had just graduated
And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus,
Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water,
And said my name. I was so much younger,
To be identified by one like him--
The easy deference of a kind of god
Who also went to church where I did--made me
Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed.
He soon was a small figure crossing waves,
The shawling crest surrounding him with spray,
Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name
Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise
To notice me among those trying the big waves
Of the morning break. His name is carved now
On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave
That grievers cross to find a name or names.
I knew him as I say I knew him, then,
Which wasn't very well. My father preached
His funeral. He came home in a bag
That may have mixed in pieces of his squad.
Yes, I can write about a lot of things
Besides the summer that I turned sixteen.
But that's my ground swell. I must start
Where things began to happen and I knew it.
From Questions for Ecclesiastes published by Story Line Press, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
To raise a stump of rock into a tower, rolling a stone
in place as the years pass.
Strangers who only know your silhouette bid it farewell and
travel to Japan,
Cross China, venture into India, to Europe, and, changed
by time and space,
Sail home over the bulging eye of ocean only to see, when
landfall looms in view,
The stump of rock--your tower--on the headland, and you there,
rolling a stone in place,
The edifice apparently no taller, as if each night you had
And every day had raised it up again. To know, only in
completion, the nisus
That dominates the spider when it spins, the bird building
its nest, the gray whale
Turning toward Mexico and the sea lion clambering up shingle
toward its mate--
The nisus of cairn-building, rock-piling, mortaring stone has
It dominates the reader bent above the book, poised like a
stork hunting; like sleep,
It is an utter unity of will and action, known--at least by
man or woman--
Only when it is over. And when the work is over--tower
building, poem writing--
You hear gulls cry and see them kiting at the bull terrier
out in the garden.
He has snatched up some strip of bloody fur they meant to mince
with beaks. Best to detach it
From his jaws, let gulls eat refuse like that. Go out into
the damp twilight, feel
The chill along the arms, through cloth, and take the petty
morsel from the pet dog, toss it
To the scolding gulls, down the rocky bank beyond the garden.
And lead the dog to food
Inside the kitchen. Enter, expecting to see the woman, the two
sons, and your place at table,
Waiting. And find you are alone. Even the dog at heel--
vanished. The stone house
Glumly dark and a dumb cold coming from its walls, that only
The cold and dark conceal much, and memory must be evoked
to penetrate them.
Meanwhile, they are the elements that starlight loves.
Clear cold, pure darkness, outside the window,
Beside the guestbed, where you have planned to lie at last,
viewing the pure, clear stars without
Obstruction by the crude suburban dwellings--that absurd roof,
down there, like a coal scoop,
And the spite fences either side your property. Nothing
in creation shows
More the supreme indifference to humanity, despite the patterns
of the zodiac.
The stars, like bits of crystal ground into a griststone's
granite rim, are small themselves.
Only the surrounding emptiness is great. Take comfort in the
emptiness; lie down.
The drink will help you sleep awhile alone, without her, until
that section of the night
You've come to know--that region you once sailed through
peacefully, worn out by work and love.
Now, stranded there till dawn, sleepless, it will not matter
that you foresaw the planet's end
Or our end on the planet. Only sleep will matter. At that
hour, in those conditions,
Just out of reach, receding like the dark itself as daylight
pushes in, sleep only
Will be the thing you want. Powerless to attain what you
desire, yet bitterly
Desiring at all costs. Perhaps, then, memory, not starlight,
And the stone house gather warmth from its hearth fire, and
loved ones reappear, and you will sleep.
From Iris, published by Story Line Press, 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Descriptions of Heaven and Hell
The wave breaks
And I'm carried into it.
This is hell, I know,
Yet my father laughs,
Chest-deep, proving I'm wrong.
We're safely rooted,
Rocked on his toes.
Nothing irked him more
Than asking, "What is there
His theory once was
That love greets you,
And the loveless
Don't know what to say.
From The Rote Walker, published by Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1981. Copyright © 1981 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.