Christian Barter Poetry — Introduction by Betsy Sholl

Christian Barter is an award-winning poet whose most recent book is Bye-Bye Land, winner of the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award.  Besides being a poet and teacher, he works on a trail crew planning and overseeing construction and rehabilitation of hiking trails on Mount Desert Island.  Christian combines a rich, vibrant intellectual capacity with deep knowledge and respect for physical labor and those who do it.  His work comes out of deep thought rooted in land and the people who work with it.   These two poems grow out of his work as Poet Laureate of Acadia National Park. “Ile des Monts Deserts” was first published on poets.org for The National Parks Project.  “The Venture” was published in The Friends of Acadia Journal.   There is a sense in these poems that knowing history  is part of how we can continually renew our vision and our commitment to honoring the world, natural and social.   Betsy Sholl

 

Île des Monts Déserts

Christian Barter

It is very high, and notched in places, so that there is the appearance to one at sea, as of seven or eight mountains extending along near each other. The summit of most of them is destitute of trees… I named it Île des Monts Déserts.

—Samuel de Champlain, 1604

1.
When Champlain sailed into Frenchman’s Bay
and saw this island’s evergreen mountains
blown clean back to ledge along their ridges,
this utterly foreign land,
an island foreign even to its coast—

it’s founded on a piece of Africa,
brought with us in the drift—

I know there were people living here but I’m thinking
of Champlain because he was coming from
a world not all that different from ours,
of crowded, elbowing streets and long-hour shifts,
a landscape cleared and plowed, and paved and built,
the power to change tight-fisted held by a few,
and grinding, messy wars that go on and on,
from which he had returned to make this voyage—

When Champlain sailed in here in one of those
square-rigged ships that can only follow the wind,
the whole crew thirsty, in clothes that must have been
putrid, having stared for months at nothing
but water, sliced at the world’s edge cleanly

and saw this place we still see from the ocean—

huge rock pushed through by a liquid fire
then sledged by mile-deep ice into a thing
of character, and then grown over
by the green that rules this world—

did he believe again, or for the first time,
in the holiness of the earth, the unassailable
authority of Earth, its calm command
beyond whatever temper tantrum Man
throws on its floor, or did he think

he’d simply entered heaven?

2.

This isn’t exactly the question I have in mind.
Perhaps it isn’t a question.
But I like thinking about Champlain catching sight
of this humped jungle, these long heads lifted
thoughtfully, then sailing closer
until it became a world—

thinking about his era’s view of the earth,
in which, wherever you sail, it just keeps
sending up mountains and lakes and beaches and forests,
how easy and right it must have seemed
to believe in a power far beyond ourselves,
in a kind of benevolent infinity…

I guess I am looking for my own direction
in the world such as it is—
like his, but lacking that one key hope:
that when this land is ash, there will always be another—

looking for my own way to think of Acadia,
this ever-more-precious island we’ve somehow kept
wooded, and rocky, and punctured through with clear lakes—
enough like it was that if you hold
your finger across the houses at its feet
you can still, sailing into Somes Sound,
see more or less the place that Champlain saw

and, also, know the place for the first time—

which is always the feeling of powerful beauty, isn’t it?—
that something has been here the whole time
and we are just now seeing it,
and must now reconsider all our theories
that there could be such a place—

or poem, or string quartet, or person?

3.

They come in droves now, a long string tugging them
ever across the land bridge to gaze down
from the steep western cliff of Cadillac
into the open eye of Eagle Lake,

the tree-massed mountains of Penobscot and Sargent
building up beyond it as if the land were still gaining power,
their sheer cliff walls like cities left by dreams,

and the ocean laid out flat, its moss-tuft islands’
miniatures of cliffs and beaches calm
as if you had imagined them—

Is it the kind of life you could live
that you see here?  At Champlain’s request,

French Jesuits came next, to bring around
the souls of those already here; they set up camp
at Fernald Point, and I wonder, too,
if they saw where they were—the cliff

of Saint Sauveur behind their shelters
standing up, god-like, its sheer rock plunging
straight down into water, down through murk
for leagues to find its ancient footing—

or just the prospect of some better place?

 

 

The Venture

Christian Barter

on the occasion of the centennial of Acadia National Park

May I, composed…
of eros and of dust…
Show an affirming flame.
—W.H. Auden

May we not trample this place.
May we be mindful—
truly mindful, like when you’re climbing something steep.
May we come here in love, the way pilgrims come
to certain tombs.
May we come here in hope, the kind of hope
that makes you courageous,
like Martin Luther King’s hope, or the first day
in a second career.
May we not bring our baggage with us.
I know we are always traveling,
but may we not bring our resentment,
or the sharp-edged pieces of our broken loves.

There is a theory that nature is perfect as it is;
may we at least look up from time to time,
as Whitman said, “in perfect wonder.”
May we wonder if what we’ve done so far is enough.
May we respect the land, which is to say, ourselves.
May we respect ourselves enough to be honest with ourselves—
to be honest about what this is, and isn’t.
It isn’t ours, for one thing.
Disneyland is ours.
Monticello is ours.
The Constitution is ours.

May we trust what we feel when we are here.
It is almost seditious, it runs so deep,
but may we trust it.
May we trust ourselves
against the common rhetoric that land is to be “used.”
That we, in the end, are primarily users.
You can’t crest Sargent from the East Cliffs’ clamor
to see that bay and islands, and Mansell Mountain
risen from its chair to face you
and think that’s what we are.

May we leave, eventually, as we all must—
after a long weekend
or a brief fifty years—
with this place inside us—
or rather, with this place firmly inside itself.

I know we are always traveling.

May we remember, today,
and also the today of tomorrow,
what it took to keep this place for us:
an athlete’s single-minded concentration
sustained for decades;
a number of fortunes;
luck;
the conviction
that what had been done so far—
and in 1916 it must have seemed like a lot
had been done: the war to restore the Union,
the railroads, Yellowstone, Yosemite—
was not enough,
that “enough” is a misnomer,
the kind of white lie you tell children—

and let us not forget luck—
that maybe one of a thousand of this kind of venture
actually succeeds
in the way that the venture
of Acadia National Park
has succeeded—

in going on being what it was;
in changing—I’m guessing nearly always for the better—
the lives of millions of people;
in showing us something that matters too deeply for words.

Which is a reminder that I have probably said enough,

except to add that the venture isn’t over—
that part really does belong to us
in the way of a family home,
or a promise made to a life-long friend,
or Monticello,
or The Constitution.

 

Dawn Potter Poetry — Introduction by Betsy Sholl

Dawn Potter’s new book, Chestnut Ridge, traces the history of her birthplace in western Pennsylvania through three centuries and various voices.  The poems change in style as the age changes, beginning with formal and moving toward free verse. These poems are a history lesson for us all, letting us overhear many voices from early missionaries when the area was the western front of the country, through the civil war and into the 21st century when men and women begin to shift roles.  Like Maine, areas of rural Pennsylvania have a distinct character that is slowly being eroded by mass culture.  These poems remind us to look and honor the roots of where we come from. It is a feat of skill to move through so many shifts in form and voice.  Betsy Sholl

Dawn Potter is a poet, writer, blogger and teacher who recently moved from rural Maine to Portland.

Laurel Caverns

               1802

In this year
two men were lost in the caverns for three days.

When found,
they were locked in each other’s arms
waiting for the end—

two travelers, eyes wide in the blackness,
ears pinned to the whisper of wings,
the seep of water.

When found, they were locked in each other’s arms.
Breath by shallow breath,
they had fabricated life.

Blind touch bound them.
They stole heat from the brush of a cheek,
the cup of a calloused hand.

And so they survived the ordeal
of never embracing again.

 

Standards of the Pennsylvania State Board of Censors

           1914

“Nothing is censored in Pennsylvania but the poor mans amusement, Why?”
                                             —Anti-censorship banner, Pittsburgh Screen Club

The Board will condemn
any motion picture portraying
prostitutes, houses of ill-fame

a girl’s seduction, her confinement
for immoral purposes, or assaults upon women,
with lewd intent. Refrain from showing

childbed scenes and subtitles that describe them.
Pictures revealing the modus operandi of criminals
are suggestive and incite the weak to evil action.

We disapprove all murder, poisoning,
house-breaking, safe-robbery, pocket-picking,
the lighting and throwing of bombs,

the use of chloroform to render men
and women unconscious, also binding and gagging.
Do not illustrate the traffic in cocaine.

Gruesome and distressing scenes
are likewise forbidden. These include shootings,
stabbings, profuse bleeding, prolonged views

of corpses, lashings and whippings,
lynchings, electrocutions, surgical operations,
and views of persons in delirium.

Avoid scenes in which the human form
is shown in the nude. Do not undertake
the topics of abortion or malpractice,

eugenics, birth control, or race suicide.
The materialization of the figure of Christ
may be disapproved. We forbid

the brutal treatment of animals,
and objectionable language in subtitles.
Depictions of burning and wrecking

may degrade the morals of the young.
Gross and offensive drunkenness,
will never be tolerated

if women are present.
Do not exhibit pictures which deal at length
with gun play, and the use of knives,

and are set in the underworld.
Vulgarities of a gross kind,
such as often appear in slapstick

and may burlesque morgues, funerals,
hospitals, or insane asylums,
are disapproved, as are sensual kissing

and other indelicate situations.
Bathing scenes may pass the limits of propriety.
Avoid immodest dancing

and the needless exhibition
of women in their night dresses.
Do not show women in suggestive positions

while smoking. The argument that your story
is adapted from the finest literature or art
is not a sufficient reason for approval.

 

The Miner Who Loved Dante

           1924

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet’s rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.
                –Dante, the inferno, translated by H. W. Longfellow

 

I haven’t wandered your way lately, Nell,
not since the police clapped me up
and I lost my shift at Number 2.

But I remember the porch of our borrowed house
and the pigeons that fluttered up from the roof
when the old lady banged her pail.

And Sue . . .  remember Sue, who sang alto to your mezzo?
In those ragged evenings, how stillness would sift
over the men, old and young, listening from their steps

or squatting outside the canteen, half-full bottles of wine
balanced on the ground between their knees.
Night opened her arms to us like a favorite aunt,

like Lena—plump, smiling, one hand at rest on my damp hair
as a hundred pigeons dipped over the river.
And all the while, Nell, you and Sue sang

of hearts, of summer, of fleeting secrets,
and we listeners believed that the songs were ours.
For no one, no one in the world, was as alive then as we were.

 

The Husbands

                2004

Their work boots were filmed with grease,
and their faces were weary.
They never showed up till the fourth inning.
Knees spread, they let themselves rest
on chairs beside the gravel-pocked ball field;
and when the women hollered, “Good eye, honey!”
at a tearful, trembling batter,
the men smiled like gentle but distracted strangers.

In their houses, a drawer slammed,
a kettle boiled, a hound twitched on the mat.
Televisions gabbled,
and the husbands pined for a secret world.
One drove six hours in dense fog
to a motel in Mississauga
instead of sitting down to supper.
Another stayed up till dawn
picking out “Night of the Johnstown Flood”
on his mother-in-law’s old guitar.

They fumbled with their sadness,
but nothing changed.
Women still clustered along the ball field
sharing packs of licorice, cat-calling the ump,
cheering at bloop singles and horrible throws to first.
The women behaved as if they had front-row tickets
to something magnificent and vital,
but the husbands couldn’t see, couldn’t quite see.

They raised their eyes toward the blackening sky
where swallows wheeled among the mosquitoes.
A child hacked at a pitch,
and the men’s thoughts clung to emptiness.
No one cried, “Cross out this life
that batters you down, and down, and down!”
Like chairs left in the rain for twenty years,
they sat.
Then one day their knees snapped
and they toppled into the flood.

 

Betsy Sholl – Poetry by Craig Sipe, “Reunion in Beaver Falls”

Craig Sipe, a Mainer now, grew up, as his poem says, in Pennsylvania.  But the changing world his speaker describes with poignancy could be any of the mill towns here in Maine as they face decline and try to rebuild themselves.   The poem also looks at how our relationship to our original home can both change and remain the same.

 

 

Reunion in Beaver Falls  (by Craig Sipe)

I am from Beaver Falls Pa,
part of Beaver County,
County Seat in the town of Beaver.

And I can tell you straight-on
that in 27 years I never
saw one damned beaver
…the whole time…

But I did see the night lit up
by blast furnaces all along
the Ohio River Boulevard
on the way to Pittsburgh,

I saw my father bent
by 21 turn shifts in a Cold Draw
pulling pipe, I saw
a thick, gray river
run past the Devout College

On the hill where the mill
fires paid for my brains but burned
my soul in cigarette plumes
over a smoker’s porch

Where the agnostics hung out
over the Beaver River, where
I gave birth to wanting to leave.

I am from Beaver Falls
where the years snuffed out the mills,
laid off a generation,
and seeded the diaspora of the next,

Where every house on every street
was for sale, wishing to dig itself up,
to redeem its soul from mortgage
and the need to change.

Beaver Falls, Beaver County,
County Seat of Beaver,
where a clean blue river

Flows today by a gas station economy,
and the   one each        legacy
donut and pizza shop   still there,

River flowing, falling by me,
stranger on the green bank,
a ghost of quit habits

staring up at the cross on the hill
one bank above the Devout College,
quite the going concern here now,

Hoping for a sign…some portent,
for a blast, for a smoke, for one God
Damned   bully   beaver.

–Craig Sipe

Poetry—Betsy Sholl, Jeffrey Thomson, Linda Aldrich

 

As Linda Aldrich’s poem “The Mime” shows us, inner and outer vision often complete each other.  The mime allows us to see what isn’t there, but could be, and memory allows us to see again what was.  The interaction of the two creates a “study of  hope melting into the perfect moment,”  a kiss received by all.

Jeffrey Thomson’s poem “Twin” perhaps brings up the darker side of our twin lives, the inner and outer, or the life of metaphor and the darker life of what can’t be so easily shaped into words. “They exist together,” he says, “the carcass and the stalking silhouette,/witched together by possibility’s spell.”   Metaphor–or art, perhaps, makes us feel great, but we still have our darker thoughts, those inner yammerings in the dark.

In my poem, “In  the Aftermath”
I let language lead me through a response to a particularly long winter.

—Betsy Sholl

 

 

—LINDA ALDRICH

 

Twin

The Psi function for the entire system would express this by having in it the living and the dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.
—E. Schrödinger``Die gegenwartige Situation in der Quantenmechanik”

Fall has finally come in a torrent
that tears leaves from the locust—
glitter mucking up the gutter,
choking the storm sewer, water
backing up, bowed with oil and filmy—
and, no, what it makes me think of
is not love dying, the glorious bronze
rage and ruin of the last days, and
not my own age yammering in the dark
as it loses control of its bladder again
and the piss rains out on the mat
before the toilet golden as shame, no,
not all that, but strangely enough,
a cat, a particular cat locked in a box,
forced to live its life stalking corners,
unaware of the isotope’s decay hanging
fire in that space like a bare bulb,
the one that will split its life in two (two
halves unhalved and parallel): one cautious,
alive and aware, green foil of eyeshine,
the other flat and black as a burn
on the floor.  They exist together,
the carcass and the stalking silhouette,
witched together by possibility’s spell.
But I’m afraid it’s all just metaphor,
quantum reflection in the mirror of desire.
Not the cat alive or dead, but both
at once: love and its failure, metaphor
and madness, youth and age with
its orchestra of sighs, the leaves
streaming through the storm-rich dark
and the mess they cause in the gutter.
Metaphor strokes the cat and buries it,
slides out from beneath the last daylight,
straightens her skirt and smoothes her
pink-streaked hair.  Metaphor turns the air
to viognier and buys a round for the house—
she’s generous that way.  Metaphor
fucks a guy she finds in the bathroom,
makes him a poet.  Metaphor stalks
through the night, painting the air
with a waste of  ______ that makes even
bridges beautiful.  She wakes in the morning
without regret, but Metaphor doesn’t talk
about her twin brother, locked away
in the hospital, pacing an ellipse
into the carpet beneath the single bulb
always on in that windowless room.

—Jeffrey Thomson

from Birdwatching in Wartime

 

 

In the Aftermath

It’s all shovel and dig, snow banks

done up to glow, getting dirty.

All shove and dog, the world half riddle,

half proof.  It’s fiddle and roof,

the deedle dum and shrug of prayer.

Icy streets, mincing steps, and later—

why not dance, sore shins into whirlwind,

till we can’t tell ourselves from God?

Of course we all know: Afterlife =

empty-wallets, no shoes in the coffin.  

And we know: before walking on ice

to take our hands out of our pockets.

Meanwhile somebody’s taking the long view,

reminding us mountains turn to silt.

Or sometimes I think silk—those Japanese screens

on which tiny people cross a bridge

overlooking a steep gorge,

as if that’s want we were wanting before

we forgot: To be happily effaced by awe,

that moment talk defers to silence.  

Oh imperfect tense, oh past, unfinished

and progressive, help me

to actually be doing this,

stepping onto that tenuous bridge

beside the water’s plummet—

Betsy Sholl 
[first published in Plume]

 

 

Moving Stone

above: Marguerite Lawler, “Mossy”, 24″x24″, oil, 2017

Submitted by Gary Lawless

Introduction by Betsy Sholl

Gary Lawless has been a presence and force in Maine poetry for many years.   He grew up here and runs with his wife Gulf of Maine Books.  But he is also a world traveler, or I should say an “earth traveler,” having residencies in national parks, studying with Gary Snyder in the Pacific Northwest, and, he writes, heading off for a residency in Venice this fall.   His work also includes making room for others–teaching poetry workshops for immigrants, translating, bringing to our community the voices of those we haven’t heard before.  My sense is that Gary is very grounded in place, but it is an expansive place,  because he honors the fact that every living soul also has a place.   It’s as if he makes no distinction between “here” and “there.”   After all, our stones have already been fire and vegetation and sand, have been under the earth and high above.

Moving Stone

 

The stone is “full of slower, longer thoughts than mind can have”           Ursula LeGuin

1

Birds skim the surface

Just above, just below

Layers of light

Stone below the

Surface, many surfaces

What is revealed and

What is hidden

 

2

Inside the stone

 

Up in the woods,

In the circle among the beech trees,

Last winter one of the lumber horses split a stone

Horizontally, with a clip of his big steel shoe.

It had seemed to be a plain gray stone,

But when it was opened a black wall appeared,

Rusty at the edges, flecked with pale checks

Like unknown constellations, and over all

Floated wisps of blue-grey, trailing feathers of clouds.

 

I brush away the fallen leaves

And stare into the distance inside the stone.

If one could become a bird –

If one could fly into that night-

If one could enter the light of those stars –

 

And then the woods become very still,

The beech leaves blur at the edge of my vision,

I find I am bending lower and lower.

 

Kate Barnes

 

 

3

The Stone

 

I don’t know if they bleed, the stones.

Or if they scream, if they howl under

The wheel & the mace, or if the knife’s

Blade wounds them, deep in their flesh,

Slicing through them.

 

I know that the loam that sometimes

Runs from them, no matter how red, is

Not blood.

 

And I’ll say nothing of their

Tenderness, from stone to stone, from

Water to air.

 

 

But what I know is that our blood

Comes from the stone. And our flesh

Comes from nowhere else, come from

Stone we are stone, we are dust and

Wind’s smoke.

 

That our blood is blood of stone,

And our heat is of the sun, and our wail

The howl of the stone, through which

Our soul passes full-bodied, that we are

The soul of the stone – but tell me, the

Stone, who is the stone – where does

She come from?

 

Marcela Delpastre

Translated from the Occitan

By Nicole Peyrafitte and Pierre Joris

 

 

4

 

Driving home from Belfast, into the crescent moon

(for Dudey Zopp)

 

I hear the granite singing,

And it is alive.

I want to tell you

That granite is a migratory species

(think plate tectonics, continental

Drift, glacial erratic)

But you can read the flow lines

From when granite was

Liquid, and moving, quickly –

I want to tell you

That lichen is

A language of granite,

That granite speaks

With air

And water and light –

We might never know

What stories it holds

Deep within the rock.

 

Gary Lawless

 

 

Remembering a Poet—Through her words

by Kathy Weinberg

 “I was more interested in daily life, less melodramatic human interactions, poems of place, and glimpses of transcendence through ordinary things,” Karie Friedman said of her writing. Waldo County Poet, translator, editor, and founder of a poetry workshop group The Poets’ Table, Karie Friedman died of a sudden illness last week. Along with her two daughters and many friends, we pay our respects and honor her words. Work is in progress to publish her most recent collection of poems.

“Yes, the thought of poems that never got written, that I might have produced when my neurons were moving faster and my passions hotter, does sadden me.   What a dope I was not to assert myself, etc.  On the other hand, my peripatetic life, with its personal ups and downs and varied roles as a motorcycle tourist, back-to-the-lander, mother, faculty wife, truck dispatcher, landlady, and editor, plus a few others I haven’t mentioned, have fed my writing and continue to do so.  Now that I’m underway, coming up on the age of Amy Clampitt when she published The Kingfisher, I’m making a run for it.” Karie Friedman

Catch
N. C. Wyeth, Dark Harbor Fishermen, 1945.

Swamped by silver herring,
the dory is so full
it should be sinking,
but there’s no water-
line, no glint or splash
around its hull or those
of other boats nearby.
Fish-shaped themselves,
they float in a black
space that might
be wet or not.
All eyes of men and gulls
focus on the catch,
more luminous than coins.
It is a dreamlike haul
and we’re the dreamers,
hovering above, with a gull’s
eye view, drawn not by hunger
but by the allure of shine,
the amazing prospect
of wading knee-deep in light,
scooping it in a net.
Karie Friedman, 2016

To read more of Karie’s poems, and biography: https://kariefriedman.com/home/

Poetry Feature

In Rachel Contreni Flynn’s poems the stories exist on several levels. There is what the speaker experiences, all those complexities of mistrust, fear and tenderness, and her inner conflicts.   Then there are the larger moral issues the writer raises by telling these stories. Just by putting “America” in the title, she is asking us to examine our own view of the world. And in “When I open the door a boy stands there,” we feel again the complication, how sympathy for one boy might endanger another, and vice versa–how protecting one will in some way betray the other. Beyond that there is the suggestion that moral decisions are never clearcut and perhaps always haunt us with untaken choices. Another great gift of stories is that we get to enter them with all their tensions and possibilities, so the poems aren’t about an experience; they are an experience.

Betsy Sholl

Rachel Contreni Flynn

America, February

 

The world shudders on, wintering in its enormity. A bobber’s stuck

in the brambles creek side, and I’ve mistaken so many things, but here

it is: dangling brightly, splitting in the cold. Last night I refused the help

 

of a man in coveralls to pull me from a ditch, refused a man I imagined.

The ditch was icy and deep, precipitous, and I was front-down in it

when he pulled up in a muscular pick-up, sturdy chains coiled in the flat bed,

 

but I wouldn’t take any chances and waved him past, emphatic, as if content

to dangle dialing numbers in my ass-up minivan. So it’s come to this in a world

where we’re in trouble and pain. And imagining. The man drove away,

 

and I stayed another hour in the ditch. A bobber, dangling. I keep tabs on it

on my morning walks. How it remains, split between the red and white,

a tiny thing faded by winter sun blasting through the blue.

 

First published in the Florida Review, 2016

 

When I open the door a boy stands there

 

not a large boy but larger than me and he’s destroyed face puffed red and wet he smells of
sweat and rotten shoes and faintly of pot and stale shit and he falls toward my chest and
that’s my chest holding up a stranger a boy my breasts on his face which is wet and he says
I can’t I can’t and I push up his shoulders a light shaking then soft shouting Are you hurt?
What hurts? and then Where is your mother? which seems the only thing to ask in trouble
and he pulls from his back pocket a good-

 

sized knife by which I mean it could cut a cantaloupe but not a watermelon that’s what I
think of the wood-handled knife shiny he produces from his floppy jeans and so I take it
from him simply as if I might turn to cube melon for snack and he stares at me considering
the knife and the boy says Mr. Flynn and I can’t figure what my husband’s father in Illinois
could do with this knife or this almost-large boy destroyed on my porch in Maine and the
boy says I came to make him pay by which he means my husband his principal and the sky
is very white it’s very blank and my shirt is creased wet just at the left breast and the boy
says But I can’t and I don’t ask again but lead him easy now

 

to the chair-and-a-half in the tv room that’s covered by a ragged cat blanket and the boy
breathes ragged then easy now folds his pale body into the chair covers himself with the
cat blanket he doesn’t know any better and that’s where the two state cops very large find
him asleep still smelling of shoes and shit and now cat of course I had to call because our
son very young will be home soon off the bus with a backpack full of bright folders and he
is small and I must not be destroyed now or ever I must prepare snack because I’m here
and safe and his mother

First published by Booth, 2015

Rachel Contreni Flynn has published several collections of poetry, and is co-editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal.  She combines a life of poetry and law, and lives with her family in Gorham, ME.

Poetry: Gibson Fay-LeBlanc

Introduction by Betsy Sholl; MAJ Poetry Editor

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Poet Laureate of Portland.  He is acting director of SPACE Gallery and was for several years director of The Telling Room.  His first book of poems is Death of a Ventriloquist, winner of the Vassar Miller Prize.   “Wing and a Prayer” was first published in Slice Magazine.   All three of these poems are about looking, about looking long and hard, looking in such a way that we experience a little self-forgetfulness, and thus can see the world and each other in new ways, and in the process be surprised by wonder, despite all the darkness around us, which of course we also have to see.

 

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc

 

A Preponderance of Evidence

 

                                    Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the                                                                               evidence change. ― Jim Wallis

Parsons, Seeing things your way

My country ‘tis of thee

and your habeas corpus: we have the body

of a parolee who knows he’ll sin again.

 

Fill all hundred trillion

synapses, overload the circuits

and trip the charge to all the outlets.

 

A prosecution of hammers and clips.

A jury of intercontinental urns.

 

You’ve seen an infant’s eye,

yes? Felt tiny fingers curl

around your long uninnocent index?

 

And the hue of that eye matters less

if darker? And the hair? And the skin

of a plump bundle heavy in your arms?

 

A crapulence of spatter.

A conviction of condolences.

 

Sit at an actual table with plates

of fingerprinted latkes, fufu, cous-cous,

squid; this table can’t happen

 

in your head. Wooden and long,

a rash of speckled crumbs—the place

Vivien Russe, Cranes

we make a gentler evidence, a new kind.

 

Wing and a Prayer

 

Hook me up to a current I felt

once: birdsong so quiet it seemed

an echo of birdsong

 

or a creek made of air

the same temperature as a body—

a silent humming I walked through.

 

I’m supposed to let whatever

what is is be what I want

but I still want, I want, I want

 

my brother’s cells to stop their war

on each other. I want a poet

I missed too much when here.

 

I want the body of a woman

down the block to come back

so she can see her kids grow up

 

and they are seen. I know deep

in my shallow root system

all of this is so far beyond

 

my small tangle of electric streets

where one raindrop pushed to one side

of one honey locust leaf can mean

 

somewhere someone dies of thirst

and somewhere else thunder becomes

a god again. I always want rest,

 

oh you godless godhead, positron,

annihilation, ether or stream—

bottomless, unnameable—but I will

 

sit here as long as it takes and watch

for any drip, flutter, or tick

that could be your approving nod.

Gropius Forest, Ed McCartan, acrylic on canvas, 48″X48″

 

Turn Strange

                                                            After Duncan Hewitt

A single fork tine’s particular curve,

dent in the old metal fire grate,

 

bicycle tube, limp on a nail,

or little ramp at the end of her nose:

 

look long enough for the electrons’

course change; for cattails to be flags

 

of a marsh nation you enter if

you stop and take in its dank musk.

 

Look long enough for your son’s eyes

to green then become a black

 

planet with a brown ring inside

a hue you never name. Look

 

long enough for a blade’s letter

on thick pond ice to melt at your touch,

 

lost path to bliss. Look long enough

for your brother to know whenever

 

if ever he goes you go any

distance any stretch of road

 

or trip across a dark river

he carries you you carry him.

 

Look long enough for sight to become

work then keep that shovel as piston

 

as a load bearing arm until liquid

salt breaks over you like laughter’s

 

pure verb of lungs and blood and rhythm

not one of us can explain but damn

 

it’s easy. We can look long enough

for all infinitesimal tremors

 

in all our small cell walls to beatbox

together a one two a one two.

 

Poetry: Betsy Sholl

Betsy Sholl

IT WAS

Heidi Daub, Whispered Longings

a squirrel flicking its tail, it was the woodpecker’s

red head, a sparrow wing flaring in light, it was

an angel, a message, bayberries on bare twigs,

it was Love Supreme in a car stopped at the light,

don’t stop me from believing it was a message,

it was a moment held, a pebble in the mouth,

a bubble blown then caught on the wand’s rim,

it was a bare tree like earth-wires sparking

in the light, it was two old women arm in arm,

Heidi Daub, Untitled

their droopy bosoms, mouths full of teeth, laughing,

their heads thrown back, it was the world breaking

its grim hold, it was the green light saying

Go, and all the cars not going so a dog

like a small god could weave among them.

Poetry: Mark Melnicove

Mark Melnicove

Ed McCartan, “Embrace”, acrylic on paper, 52×40″

You can hear more than the ocean

You can hear more than the ocean in a seashell.

You can hear the grit on the window grinding in farther.

You can hear fear sweat black tar.

You can hear regimented genes spit seeds at sunshine.

You can hear plastic bags yearn to be liquid, to be oil again.

You can hear a concave order shapeshift into a convex mess.

You can hear feverish rosebuds break out in a rash on your cheeks.

You can hear diaries abort their periods.

You can hear ants wobble and fall on their way home after carousing.

You can hear greedy giants emerge from pebbles.

You can hear insincere confessions rattle the chains that hold them.

You can hear the prisoner mark his day on the wall.

You can hear the long, hard haul to mercy marching.

You can hear a bell ringing.

Who will answer it?

 

I started to draw

Paula Dougherty, “Freedom Prayer”

I started to draw a face.

I got as far as the nose and mouth.

Then, high-speed lies, news frequencies, burst onto the scene.

I lost control of my drawing hand.

I wanted to fashion something else for the face—a beard out of lines.

But I lost my grip, and the whiskers scattered like pick-up sticks.

I did not feel like playing.

All I wanted was to scratch my pen in peace.

But a whirlwind the size of continents spun me in the air.

It had breathing chunks of skin lodged in it.

Launched into space, I looked back at my creation.

I saw the page and innocent face there.

It was hairless, smiling, optimistic for the future.

I could not understand why.