Accessible 2015

Accessible Fall 2015

For our visually impaired readers, we offer the latest edition of Nine Mile in an apple-readable format.  This Fall 2015 volume includes work by Marvin Bell, Stephen Kuusisto, Bill Schulz, and many others.

NINE MILE MAGAZINE

Publisher:  Bob Herz
Editors:  Bob Herz, Stephen Kuusisto
Art Editor Emeritus:  Whitney Daniels
Cover Art:  Thomasina DeMaio, Lawrence F. 1981. oil on canvas 36 by 28 inches Used by permission of the artist

Nine Mile Magazine is a publication of Nine Mile Artcorp, Inc. Poetry and artwork copyright of their respective authors and artists. All rights reserved. No poem or artwork may be reproduced in full or in part without prior written permission from its owner.

About Nine Mile Magazine

Nine Mile Magazine is an online magazine of literature and art, digitally published in Spring and Fall of each year.  It was founded in 2013 by Bob Herz and Whitney Daniels, who remains art editor emeritus, and to whom we remain grateful for the design of the magazine.  The magazine is edited by Bob Herz and, with this issue, also by extraordinary poet and writer Stephen Kuusisto.

Our purpose in creating this magazine is simple:  to publish the best writing and artwork available to us, with an emphasis on Central New York, where we live and which is undergoing tremendous ferment in poetry, art, music, and literature.  Like the 25-mile long Nine Mile Creek from which we take our name, the magazine follows a varied course, with different writings and arts coming together to form a cohesive whole. Our views are broad and eclectic, and we’re excited to be able to provide publication and appreciation to our fellow creative types.

Nine Mile is a labor of love. It is not supported by  financial individuals or institutions other than ourselves.  We regret that we are unable to offer compensation to artists and authors other than publication in a quality collection, in the company of others who share a dedication to their art.

We hope you enjoy this and all our prior issues, which are available online. If you have time and inclination, please drop us a line and let us know what you think.

– Bob Herz, Stephen Kuusisto, Editors

About Talk About Poetry

Talk About Poetry is the podcast venture of Nine Mile Magazine, a discussion with working poets about poems that interest, annoy, excite, or otherwise engage us.  Participants in the discussion are working poets and writers.  All podcasts are available on Soundcloud and on iTunes, and the Talk About Poetry blog provides an  extended discussion of the poems and an opportunity for listener feedback.  The addresses are:

Soundcloud:  https://soundcloud.com/bobherz

iTunes:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/talk-about-poetry/id972411979?mt=2

WordPress blog:  https://talkaboutpoetry.wordpress.com

Discussions & readings to date (Fall , 2015) have been:   Robert Bly’s “Old Boards”; Marvin Bell’s “About the Dead Man and Your Hands”; Brigit Kelley’s “Garden of Flesh, Garden of Stone”; Phil Memmer’s “How Many Shapes Must A God Take” and “Psalm”; Georgia Popoff’s “The Agnostic Acknowledges the Food Chain” and “Name Inconsequential”; Stephen Kuusisto’s “Sand” and “They Say”; Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Voetex Sutra” (2 parts); Discussion of Georgia Popoff’s Psalter; Discussion of Jasmine Bailey’s Alexandria; Discussion of Marvin Bell’s poems, and a specific focus on his Dead Man poems (2 parts); Readings by Ken Weisner, Jasmine Bailey, Georgia Popoff, Andrea Scarpino, Sam Pereira, Marvin Bell; Links at the discussions provide texts of poems under discussion.

Our Submission Policy

We want to see your best work!  Submit via email to: info@ninemile.org.

• Poetry: submit 4 – 6 poems in word, text, or pdf format.

• Artwork: submit 3 – 5 small jpg files.

Include your name and contact information along with

1.  a brief paragraph about yourself (background, education, achievements, etc),

2.  a statement of aesthetic intent for these poems or artwork, and

3.  a photo of yourself, and a link to your website (if available).

We will respond within 2 weeks. If you do not hear from us, reconnect to make sure we received your submission.

Note that at least for now we do not accept essays, reviews, video / motion based art, or Q&A’s without invitation.

Marvin Bell 

The Book of the Dead Man  (The Batting Cage)

Live as if you were already dead. — Zen admonition

1. About the Dead Man and the Batting Cage

You know what’s coming, and you still can’t hit it.
The dead man set the speed at high, the pitcher was not permitted bean balls or the inside corner of the plate.
It was not as it was for the little, lead-off hitter taking one for the team, not like that.
The batting cage is a form, a shape, a definition, a physical tautology, an insular life of now, and again now, and now yet again.
Snapping overhand, the robotic arm brings it.
You are in the cage to hit line drives, a little arc is best, a liner to the outfield will be the top prize.
The mesh ceiling blocks high flies, a grounder is humiliating.
A batter wants to know his next swing will bring rain.
Bring your bat, the cage bats feel water-logged.
The dead man, a singles hitter, chokes up, he just wants to reach base.

2. More About the Dead Man and the Batting Cage

The dead man, battling a robot hurler, did not wear a helmet.
Even if the arc of its slingshot delivery could go awry, look out.
If only the dead man could predict when a pitch will be a brush-back, can you?
The runner on first wants to go, does one have to swing?
Imagine, instead, that the strike zone fits you.
You can wait out the wide heat, pay for the plate.
The old batting cages befitted the grit of single-A.
No uniforms, batting gloves, cocky dances or the dreams of parents.
It wasn’t when they brought in the fences, juiced the bats and balls, and gave up on “get ’em on, get ’em over, get ’em in.”
It was when they called the hot dogs “gourmet.”
About Marvin Bell

Marvin Bell is author of more than 23 books of poetry, including The Book of the Dead Man (Copper Canyon Press, 1994), Ardor: The Book of the Dead Man, Vol. 2(Copper Canyon Press, 1997), Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000 (Copper Canyon Press, 2000), Mars Being Red (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), and Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2011).

Bell’s first major work, A Probable Volume of Dreams, won the Lamont Poetry Prize in 1969, and he has since won many other honors, including Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) fellowships, and Senior Fulbrights to Yugoslavia and Australia.  In 2000 Bell was appointed the first Poet Laureate for the state of Iowa.

Bell taught for forty years for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, retiring as the Flannery O’Connor Professor of Letters. He is currently an emeritus faculty member, and serves on the faculty of the Master of Fine Arts in Writing program at Pacific University in Oregon.  Former students include such well-known poets as Rita Dove, Norman Dubie, Albert Goldbarth, James Tate, Larry Levis, and David St. John, and others too numerous to mention here.  He currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington, and in Iow City, Iowa.

About the Poems

In 1994 Bell published what some reviewers regard as his most radical work, The Book of the Dead Man, about which Prairie Schooner said that Bell had fashioned “a dazzling linguistic Chinese box, at once alluring and elusive, which shows up for once and for all (maybe) the emptiness of ‘Language Poetry’ and, in fact, much recent experimental and postmodern writing.”  Others said, in Poietry magazine for instance, that “Bell is really out there—trying to invent a new kind of poetry, something like an epic with only one character.”

Richard Jackson, writing for the North American Review, called The Book of the Dead Man “one of the most complex, most original books in a long time,” and added that Bell deals with both internal and external forces but does not see them as necessarily separate: “The counterpointed vision also means that to talk about the cosmos is to talk about the self and its tiniest sensations, to talk about government is to talk about the self’s needs—one thing is always seen in contrast to several other things.” He concluded, “What The Book of the Dead Man does, by its verbal pyrotechnics, is redefine sensibility, and this is the most essential thing any poetry can do. . . . This is an astounding feat. There’s not a greater gift any poet or poetry can bring.”

In Ardor: The Book of the Dead Man, Volume Two, and in Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems, Bell continues in a similar mode, darkly rendering what a Publishers Weekly contributor described as “the thin line that separates the real from the unreal, the illuminated from the dim, the living from the dead.”

L.B. Green

It’s Late Here

It’s Dylan’s raining all over the world night.

I wish you had an address.  Street numbers:

a guarantee you’ll receive the tomes, for good or ill,

the ones you requested of me and I send to you email

over the last three years. A time

in which you and I have learned to hold one another

in metonym’s

sun-heated waves as they continue the lap

and tongue of shores.

Because you travel, again, and I remain

eager to learn:

about Bornean men and mountains where

twelve zones away you write, I happily sit among

the rice terraces north of town.

About L. B. Green

L. B. Green is currently working on a fourth book of poems. The poem “It’s Late Here” herein this issue of Nine Mile is drawn from the ongoing manuscript. She will read from the work-in- progress while writer in residence at the VCCA’s Moulin à Nef Studio in Auvillar, France, in September, 2015. Her books include Judas Trees North of the House, Night Garden, and THE ART OF SEEING. Also a visual artist and photographer, she lives and works in Davidson, North Carolina.

About the Poetry

More and more often now, as I grow older, I ask myself questions, questions such as: “What is nearness? What is distance? What is love? What determines truth? What is reality? Is a thing  transparent akin to a thing opaque?” On, and on. And find myself not one whit wiser, only more open to thought, more convinced that all art reveals: the pain of loss and betrayal, the heights and joys of human love and companionship.  So that again and again, consistently, I look for light in the details of Nature because I am, body and soul, part of Nature, part of the infinite.

“The mind is an active organ which moulds and coordinates sensations into ideas,” Kant said. And in that declarative statement I find my peace and happiness.

Lisa Zerkle

Trinket

1. a small ornament, piece of jewelry, etc.

2. a trifle or toy (from Middle English trenket, shoemakers’ knife, from Old French trenchier, to cut)

An elephant hide

is an inch thick,

but they can feel

a fly alight.

*

Time and luck grow

an elephant — months

of enough water and forage

swell the belly.

*

If the young escape

hyenas’ teeth, once

grown, they have no

natural enemies.

*

On the radio, they say

some Chinese believe

elephants shed tusks simply

as children lose baby teeth.

*

In the wild, their trumpets

rumble for miles. Some

of their cries are too low

for human ears.

*

When elephants

unearth skeletons

of family, they stroke

the bones.

*

The herd covers their dead

with bark and leaves.

Scientists say

they appear to grieve.

*

Cachalot

When whalers sliced open the huge, squarish skulls and beheld the milky liquid inside, they believed it semen and named the whale “sperm,” away as they were long months at sea. Toiling for a portion of profit split too many ways, loneliness the least of their worries. How easy to gash your own flesh flensing blubber into leaves thin as Bible pages, splatter oil from boiling try-pots, or slip on decks slick with gore.  Around the ship, the dead stench, that fog seeping into weave of clothes and deep into skin and hair.  The sailors’ one luxury — lanterns filled with fresh oil sweet as early grass butter.

Evenings in Boston, Brahmins gathered around oil lamps in parlors. In civilized pursuit of knowledge, gentlemen read the Bible or the latest from Mr. Hawthorne or Melville. Ladies embroidered neat stitches, the rise and flash of needle through canvas. At night they retired, led by the steady burn of a spermaceti candle, a light so fine it set the standard for luminous intensity.  No smoke or whiff of fish and barely a flicker of shadow cast on the wall.

RE: Zona Intangible, Ecuador

President Correa, I’d like to buy a beetle,

the one whose back bears a golden oval, the blue

jewel, the one scalloped in scarlet, or the one

that seems hammered from delicate metal.

I need the caterpillars, too. The fat cigar

whose head ends in a rakish Fantasia mop,

the inchworm with crimson tips and racing stripes,

even the one bristled in jagged spikes.

The oil companies slick back their hair and ply you

with foiled chocolates, hothouse flowers. Trust us.

How much for the grasshopper that mimics moss,

the praying mantis seemingly made of sticks,

and the moth with wise eyes warning from its wings?

In Quito, you carry the weight of the world.

Your young need schools, your poor need food. You say

they cannot be beggars sitting on a sack of gold.

But gas is gas is gas. Nothing precious about a wavy shimmer

in the air, that tang at the back of the throat.

You’ve got a fortune there at the nexus of

Amazon and Andes. A dozen different monkeys,

the white-bellied spider, the red howler, the wooly,

the marmoset that could sit in my palm. What would

people give to hear how loud that noisy night monkey is?

Pipelines follow roads, those hard-packed scars

snaking across acres of green. Keep instead

the frogs with polka dots, the little fish that live

in the jaguar’s muddy paw prints.

A Long Vacation Somewhere Far Away

is where you must be.

The night you left,

the Barred Owl I’d heard for years but never seen

held her ground, looked at me before

the bellows of her wings lifted her into the trees.

When you come back, I’ll tell you

about the bats who flew laps around the oak in my yard,

darting after bugs like small dark dogs chasing after a ball.

That night, I made blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup

for my son because he asked, and I knew you would have

said yes.

I keep seeing you from the back:

at the mall, in the airport, and once, behind the wheel

of a baby blue convertible, top down. I hope

you’ve found a private beach, one with shells

on pastel sand. And a man who laughs at your jokes.

I want to tell you about the turtle,

stopped like a rock in the middle of the road, how

he fanned his feet through the air when I lifted him

from the street, set him on a safer path through the grass.

His tough shell not enough to guard that tender flesh.

About Lisa Zerkle

Lisa Zerkle’s poems have appeared in the Southern Poetry Anthology, Broad River Review, Tar River Poetry, Nimrod, Sixfold, poemmemoirstory, Crucible, and Main Street Rag, among others.   She is the author of Heart of the Light. She lives in Charlotte, NC where she is an editor of Kakalak.

About the Poems

In two of these poems, (Trinket and RE: Zona Intangible, Ecuador), I’m thinking about what things are “worth.”  How is it calculated? Is it the pure exchange of item for cash? How much do we as humans want elephants and undiscovered insects around for our children and grandchildren?  In a novel approach, the president of Ecuador asked First World countries to pay to leave a pristine part of the Amazon intact, but few stepped up and (of course) oil companies offered much more. Humans are only one of almost nine million species on earth.  Whether other species are allowed to flourish or perish seems to depend on how much or little we assign to their value.

A Long Vacation Somewhere Far Away is for a friend who died unexpectedly. When I read a good book, I still have to stop myself from thinking to share it with her. I’m still “talking” to her in my head.  This poem is some version of that conversation.

Martin Willitts Jr

Snowy Landscape with Arles in the Background

Based on the Van Gogh painting, 1888, painted one day

after the painting, Landscape with Snow

Another snow replaced the last

halting movement

so I may paint this scene

with hushed praise

there are miles of silence

beginning and ending

no starting point

like an argument

only the sound of a brush

individual snowflakes

puffs of cold breath

hedge grass shuffling its feet

God telling me what to do

blue stillness

absence of crows

lack of church bells

my hands carry these empty miles

sudden as an cast-aside row boat

where there is no water

overgrown with weeds and lost hope

Blackbird

Where the man walked, the earth broke away

into distant futures as a deluge of sadness.

The earth broke like a stick at the suggestion of birds.

It sounded like knitting needles making a sweater

from skeins knowing intense panic.

His heart clinked like ice against a glass of lemonade,

for he had seen a red-winged blackbird

for the first time and it moved as bedroom curtains

when two people make love behind them.

It is crucial to have such moments. To see

the unexpected when no one else is looking.

He did not have to share this with just anyone.

He could hoard it. His hungry eyes had filled with it.

When he walked, the earth broke into music

from a field of red poppies. Never mind the harvesters

reaping them for drugs, or the music escaping as bees.

Never mind the translators of the unknown. Never mind

the blue sweater perfect for hiking into the lemon remoteness.

A blackbird with a red patch on its wing, studied the man

with equal curiosity. It was deciding if it should sing.

About Martin Willits Jr.

Martin Willitts Jr is a retired Librarian living in Syracuse, New York. He has had poems in Stone Canoe, Blue Fifth, Nine Mile, Centrifugal Eye, Kentucky Review, Comstock Review, and many others. He won the International Dylan Thomas Poetry Award (2014) for the centennial. He has over 20 chapbooks and 8 full length collections. His forthcoming books include “How to Be Silent” (FutureCycle Press), “God Is Not Amused With What You Are Doing In Her Name” (Aldrich Press).

About The Poems

“Snowy Landscape with Arles in the Background” is a striped-down poem of 5 stanzas, 4 lines each, with no punctuation. Only the essence remains. The structure allows for the shortness of breath like trudging through fields of snow. Vincent van Gogh painted two versions of the same snowy landscape, one day apart. In this painting, he chooses the view which includes, oddly, a rowboat. There does not seem to be any water, river, lake, for the row boat. It is out of place until van Gogh includes it. This rather quiet poem is like a William Carlos Williams poem. But there are details all around in this poem. Sometimes, in snow, there is such quietness you feel you could hear some noise from miles away. In central New York, we see our share of snow. I have gone on those isolated snowy days to the remote fields to hear that amazing stillness. Inside that stillness I find the tiniest sounds, sometimes from within, sometimes, apparently from nowhere.

“Blackbird” is the same exploration of barren fields of silence, and what might be found inside the silence. Both poems have distance. Both are seen, rather than experienced. This is a field of brokenness. Why this man is walking in the woods is never made clear. He is within his own aloneness. Then he notices the red-winged blackbird, and everything around him changes focus. I say “It is crucial to have such moments.” We all need some point where we notice the world around us, and suddenly we find it amazing. The red patch on a blackbird’s wing is a good focal point; suddenly there are other colors and music. To me, this poem is about having a religious experience; for someone else this poem could be about something else as simple as a blackbird.

Jeremy T. Wattles

Sins of Place

They came from miles around

to sit on father’s couch—

breaking bread,

a new development.

From four to fourteen dozen

we were—

a crumbling grange

in need of scraping, primer, white paint;

a fire hall room with

grey carpet, bunks

in the basement

yellow plastic covers,

cold tiled floors;

a corner pizza shop,

red walls and sloping roof

next to lawn mower repair,

snowblower spark plugs,

stacked red jerry cans;

breaking ground, consecrated—

new brick, new development,

a clean spire, money

for a paved driveway.

For a time I knew grace—

yet, if destruction

of the dream is inherent

in the act of achievement—

The first stained glass window

with a name—what

do you do with gifts

you do not want?

Hide and seek, touch football,

leaf piles.  Confirmation,

youth group – listening, learning

without knowing how to

offer a sermon—

My oldest friend from the age

of grace, the age of two.

After the exile he first built

a driverless car for the army,

and now sculpts or sails

in Alaska or Denmark.

They came from miles around

to fight about dead men’s

names in stained glass,

would not break bread.

There are sons who shun

their parents who never see

grandchildren, cards from

aging spinsters each Christmas

and and and

What do the dead care

for stained glass?

Should grace extend to them,

they would whisper—

stop eating yourselves,

else whichever lot of you survives

must wander,

toil in grief,

for you have taken communion

yet created refugees.

Release

Throw high your arms

and exhale.

Set down and sing a dirge over

your anti-aging

cream—

there are ashes in the water.

The West Virginians have

nothing to drink.

Throw high your arms

and sing

bring the Mars rocket back

to Earth

decouple the assumptions

latching the fuel boosters tight.

The seedling grasps after

fertilizer, your voice, your sacrifice.

Throw high your arms!

Join hands and carry the fire

from your unplugged TV.

Mourn the blasted mountaintops, the overturned cemeteries;

guard what earth remains, the seedling, the covenant.

Teach your child to tie together

their red shoelaces, but first

their roots.

Orion’s Song

Some of us dream of creating

water with our arms strapped tight,

chests sucked in.

Roots are to be cut,

and seeds transported – we will take life

from the ash—

shot into space on a burning tower.

You whine of relative privation—

African villages with candles

in a world of light bulbs, dying

of infection in a world of penicillin.

Your nirvana fallacy, your drug

has left your imagination in chains,

and eviscerated your verse.

We sing Orion’s song,

the quaking roar of our fuel boosters—

three columns of star bright flame

in harmony like Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka.

They gird us along the weighing beam;

we will not call them the three marys,

perhaps kings, though they too will fall

to the shuddering earth of Cape Canaveral.

Age is no matter, nor decadent lotions.

We are the fraction of untouchable travelers—

the nomad faction carrying our own fire

like Marco Polo, Columbus, Da Gama,

stricken and rusting Mars will yield

us a colony, children, a new frontier

distillation.

Rilke’s traveler brought back a pure gentian word—

we will send an image of a quartz flower

shining in the weathered scrabble,

a new divergent identity to be mined

out of the glittering madness of explorers

one hundred million miles away.

Ready for November

I was ready to lose the light,

for cold snaps and bad coughs,

poor health and sallow paling skin.

Ready for bitter jealous dreams

of warm southern climes,

and waking to another short sodden Scottish day;

I was ready to grin and bear high growling winds,

embrace enervation, hunker down,

ready to accept the hibernation of soul.

But it’s galling, it raises the bile,

to think how fit I was.

All those numb November miles

only two, three years ago.

The hotburning slowbeating heart and body of a hunter…

autumnal training runs along Lake Moraine Causeway,

through forgotten towns—Poolville, Preston, Tyner—

a closeknit jostling jocular pack of boys

hammering up hillsides

legs pistoning beside creek beds and farm flats—

the vision representative of the kill,

hot and sour nostalgia served for the ravenous.

Firstworld privileged dreams, a luxury

fueled by metaphysical hungers.

I wasn’t ready for sweating smackheads on Princes Street

begging for enough buschange to nail a fix;

for paralyzing ironies of oil politics—

the petrol in your fuel-efficient car came at the expense of a clean stream

in the Niger Delta.  Now child soldiers with oil in their guts

want revenge for their poisoned mothers—

A-Ks in hand, they are paddling up to drilling platforms in wooden canoes.

Instead I’d sussed out savvy comparisons

for the drear Scottish winter…

the wind blasting you as you walk hunched

across George IV Bridge to catch the 23 bus

like the exhaled gasps of tourists climbing Arthur’s Seat;

the mottled and charcoalblackened stone buildings

like the raindrenched treebark.

Only one month.

This will pass; this will balance…

But I can’t shake the deep cold bite

the seeping presentiment of the penultimate:

November as Harbinger.

All things advance accordingly—

a chuckle and rattle at my back

guiding this visceral glimpse.

November as vision, a prophecy

of the cough that carries me off,

the withered senile end,

annual rehearsal for the final hour.

Oh, but Scottish winters make me maudlin!

I find myself lighting votive candles at odd hours,

fret over fusty clothes and frowning locals,

I’d give a week’s pay for a tender evening with Miss K…

…November in the soul:

Ishmael, I see your face.

I’ve boarded your gray ship—

I hear the windlass creaking,

the snap of your sails.

I even tried to stop navelgazing,

quit sailing oceans of selfpity—

instead, to accept metallic dreams,

and the end of interest-only payments.

I sail back to port, anchor, organize friends for a night out

to double as a dose of forgetfulness.

Even on the dancefloor,

under red neon bliss,

swimming through hardfi hifi deep vinyl bass,

after a shot of cinnamon mescal and

a kiss from the girl with the tit tape

in the silver dress,

even here I thought I was ready for the black overthinking.

The days until departure spreading out before me.

Another vision of slow loss, a new exile.

America calls, demands a sale:

trade this deathdriven winter

for the winter of “home”—

Syracuse snowpacks and gutters of foot-thick ice;

cups of yellow eggnog with ground nutmeg

and blowing clouds of white snowcrystals.

Anodyne artificial comforts will wane—

snowcrystals and saturated fat will become cruelly beautiful.

Repatriation is no cure.

New dreams arise,
leave their leaden residue of division.

Ready for November

I was ready to lose the light,

for cold snaps and bad coughs,

poor health and sallow paling skin.

Ready for bitter jealous dreams

of warm southern climes,

and waking to another short sodden Scottish day;

I was ready to grin and bear high growling winds,

embrace enervation, hunker down,

ready to accept the hibernation of soul.

But it’s galling, it raises the bile,

to think how fit I was.

All those numb November miles

only two, three years ago.

The hotburning slowbeating heart and body of a hunter…

autumnal training runs along Lake Moraine Causeway,

through forgotten towns—Poolville, Preston, Tyner—

a closeknit jostling jocular pack of boys

hammering up hillsides

legs pistoning beside creek beds and farm flats—

the vision representative of the kill,

hot and sour nostalgia served for the ravenous.

Firstworld privileged dreams, a luxury

fueled by metaphysical hungers.

I wasn’t ready for sweating smackheads on Princes Street

begging for enough buschange to nail a fix;

for paralyzing ironies of oil politics—

the petrol in your fuel-efficient car came at the expense of a clean stream

in the Niger Delta.  Now child soldiers with oil in their guts

want revenge for their poisoned mothers—

A-Ks in hand, they are paddling up to drilling platforms in wooden canoes.

Instead I’d sussed out savvy comparisons

for the drear Scottish winter…

the wind blasting you as you walk hunched

across George IV Bridge to catch the 23 bus

like the exhaled gasps of tourists climbing Arthur’s Seat;

the mottled and charcoalblackened stone buildings

like the raindrenched treebark.

Only one month.

This will pass; this will balance…

But I can’t shake the deep cold bite

the seeping presentiment of the penultimate:

November as Harbinger.

All things advance accordingly—

a chuckle and rattle at my back

guiding this visceral glimpse.

November as vision, a prophecy

of the cough that carries me off,

the withered senile end,

annual rehearsal for the final hour.

Oh, but Scottish winters make me maudlin!

I find myself lighting votive candles at odd hours,

fret over fusty clothes and frowning locals,

I’d give a week’s pay for a tender evening with Miss K…

…November in the soul:

Ishmael, I see your face.

I’ve boarded your gray ship—

I hear the windlass creaking,

the snap of your sails.

I even tried to stop navelgazing,

quit sailing oceans of selfpity—

instead, to accept metallic dreams,

and the end of interest-only payments.

I sail back to port, anchor, organize friends for a night out

to double as a dose of forgetfulness.

Even on the dancefloor,

under red neon bliss,

swimming through hardfi hifi deep vinyl bass,

after a shot of cinnamon mescal and

a kiss from the girl with the tit tape

in the silver dress,

even here I thought I was ready for the black overthinking.

The days until departure spreading out before me.

Another vision of slow loss, a new exile.

America calls, demands a sale:

trade this deathdriven winter

for the winter of “home”—

Syracuse snowpacks and gutters of foot-thick ice;

cups of yellow eggnog with ground nutmeg

and blowing clouds of white snowcrystals.

Anodyne artificial comforts will wane—

snowcrystals and saturated fat will become cruelly beautiful.

Repatriation is no cure.

New dreams arise,
leave their leaden residue of division.

Return, Exile

This begins with an uncatholic command

from Cromwell’s cruel heart—

march south, you vanquished barbarous Scots,

you crown-loving Covenanters.

March south, from Dunbar’s seaside

to Durham cathedral cell;

there three-fifths of you shall die,

and await Bonnie Prince Charlie in Hell.

Where is my name before 1650?

Lost in an unrecorded line,

a deep running root

of rooster-tenders and mud

makers.

Once, perhaps, an Englishman traveled north…

bedded or wedded a brooding Gaelic girl,

I imagine her: small, darkhaired, and fair—

a hawkish, Pictish face.

I fancy they lived in the Borders,

perhaps in pretty, prejudiced Peebles.

Him the incomer, her the gutterbluid.

From the gutter, from the mud,

this name emerges, morphs, becomes history;

a captured man named John Woodall marching in the cold—\
stubborn survivor bound for Durham and deportation.

Rumi People

Rumi people ruin me—

the light in their eyes is too much.

I leave too many doors unlocked

and they won’t shut up.

Singing sweetly of the Beloved,

they demand to be embraced.

And this city – D.C. with its penile

eponymous monument poking the sky,

with searing outlaw sunsets

over the Potomac

like shimmering red gold lust,

with decade old memories

of hands clasped passing by the Scottish Rite temple

of verses requited

while cooking omelets naked—

this city ruins me.

Rumi people – I dabble at being one.

Cast away poison lead weights

of blue inhibition.

I drive out sneering Fear

with his tight black shirt.

I let the light of their eyes pierce me,

waves and particles buffet me.

I’m at dinner, full on shrimp and grits,

talking with Rumi people about the Beloved

and failure and glory.

The vanishing wine and the light in it

fills up a bubble and surrounds us.

The gauzy surface is named: Joyful Celebration,

the atmosphere inside: The Flashing Wholeness

Of A Moment,

the pealing laughter: Electricity.

Do Rumi people live like this each day?

All this muchness and suchness?

This current takes, shakes, makes—

a red dress with no underwear,

a hand slapping against a stomach,

a cup of wine like a bubble –

what’s left but to confuse the Beloved with sex?

They leave behind a revolution of consciousness—

perhaps casting a tether out and away.

It should be a blessing, though

I seem to have an extra anchor of ignorance

in the sludge at the bottom of the Potomac,

the sediment and rust of all my days.

What do these Rumi people, these Sufis, see?

This thirteenth century club might be a cult…

all these words, all this affirmation.

In this city I find and lose Rumi—

stoked, stroked, ruined, remade I am

again impoverished of his words.

I no longer know what to do

when I see the Beloved.

About Jeremy T. Wattles

Jeremy T. Wattles works at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, organizing volunteer projects and tutoring programs for college students, as well as contributing to community organizing and community based scholarship.  He has published poetry in university publications as a student, and in the online literary magazine Textualities.  In 2013, Star Cloud Press published Swept Out of A Dead Frontier, his critical analysis of contemporary fiction of the American West.  For the last few years, Jeremy has been working on a collection of poems exploring themes of exile.

About The Poems

These six poems are part of a larger collection that I have been working on for several years, titled Return, Exile.  I have sought to explore the themes of expatriation, traveling, returning to a place you used to call home, and growing into adulthood while simultaneously piecing together these different ways of living into something coherent, at least to yourself.  How does place influence our identity formation?  What parts of history, of a relationship, of a city, do you hold on to or let go?  What about these travels and different ways of being in the world haunt you, give you peace, or become part of your personal belief system?  Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Blanco, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Pablo Neruda have been strong influences during this time.

“Sins of Place” is a poem about my father, who is a minister, and one of the churches he led when I was a young boy.  To my young eyes it was a vital, growing, and healthy place that eventually became corrupted, ultimately destroying itself and casting everyone in that community out to fend for themselves.  The irony here is that in our particular Protestant tradition we are called not to invest emotionally in buildings or individual spiritual leaders, and yet we did so to the point of destruction.  Ever since I’ve had a hard time trusting groups of believers, though I simultaneously find myself drawn to that sort of close-knit group, when there’s a healthy dynamic.

“Release” and “Orion’s Song” are poems in dialogue with each other.  The first takes the point of view that we must atone for the violence we have done to our planet, and we must temper our relentless consumer culture and impulses.  The second is a reply to that call – it takes a dim view of this earthbound philosophy, and believes that our future lies in our ingenuity and in those rare humans who push boundaries in order to ensure survival and acquisition of new resources.  I don’t know quite where I fit on this continuum – perhaps like some dialectic relationship we think we need both – but I like the strong voices I hear in their arguments.

“Ready for November” is a rather sprawling poem where the narrator ostensibly fears what the beginning of winter represents, but eventually we see that he has deeper issues of belonging apart from somewhat ironically rendered existential dread.  He is also somewhat embarrassed by his privilege and not sure how to reconcile that to his lifestyle.  Herman Melville inspired a significant part of this poem.

“Return, Exile” is an imagined take on family history.  As far as I can tell, my given surname comes from a defeated Scottish Covenanter, captured in the Battle of Dunbar against Oliver Cromwell in 1650, and after being held as a prisoner of war for more than a year and watching thousands of his fellow soldiers die, was deported from Britain on a boat to Boston and sold into indentured servitude in the New World, never to see his home country or whatever family he may have had again.  I hope that one day I can expand this into a larger series of poems imagining his journey and life after he comes to the Massachusetts Bay colony.

“Rumi People” is about the confusion that the narrator feels over Rumi’s concept of the Beloved.  He is traveling and finds himself caught up unexpectedly in a situation that evokes memories of past lovers.  He is left feeling befuddled, blessed, aroused, guilty, repressed, and profoundly uncertain of what meaning there may or may not be in chance attractions and encounters, set against the inertia of daily life.

Bill Schulz

Midnight Bucolic

Love the jacket.

Love the scarf,

red, isn’t it?

Is this Vermont?

The sheep nodding

in the valleys.

Put on your boots,

the ones like Dad’s.

The leaves just tinkle

as we walk by.

Hey friend

who taught me

nightmares,

is it me

or is it

the camera angle,

when you sit there,

jacket hung

on its Shaker

peg,

you look like Frost

in his barn

listening to the hens

gaggling all night.

Segno di pace

His hands are small,

fingers sharp somehow;

you wouldn’t linger

in a handshake or

other sign of peace,

peace may be there

but not that certain

and not that long.

I think of Giugno

who lived in the fields

and oaks beside our

barn, small and tough,

like half a brick. We’d burn

the last of the olive wood,

drink from the unlabelled

bottles and watch talk

shows, Giugno sleeping

on my legs, his needly

claws retracting just

before puncturing my skin.

About Bill Schulz

I was born and raised in Maine and now live in Portland on a hill that looks across an old ice pond. Maine natives tend to look at life with a well-earned and somewhat healthy skepticism. One of the state’s marketing slogans is “The way life should be.” A real Mainer wants to add a line, “…but really isn’t.” Maine is 4th of July on Penobscot Bay, sailboats, blueberry pies, and a crusty  old timer in a so’wester hat saying “ayuh,” sure. But for most of us who can’t afford to live the life of visitors to “Vacationland,” Maine can be as hard as granite and harsh as a winter’s day on the North Atlantic.  My poems have been grown in this hard, rocky soil; sometimes you get blueberries and sometimes you get potatoes.

I once tried bending birches in the woods off a back road in Hebron, Maine. I was walking with my prep school roommate on a cold and snowy Sunday afternoon, discussing our most recent class on Robert Frost. It seemed like the right thing to do – until we were hanging high off the earth, hands cold and bleeding from the climb, tree NOT bent to the ground “Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair/

Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.” It was a good lesson in both practical prosody and theology – one that I’ve not forgotten.

I hold Master’s Degrees in English from the poetry workshop at The University of New Hampshire and in theology from The Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California. My poetry has appeared in The Seneca Review, Kansas Quarterly, Nine Mile and other publications.

About the Poems

“Midnight Bucolic” was written for my “friend who taught me nightmares,” Galway Kinnell, who I never met. I regret never hearing him read The Book of Nightmares from beginning to end, hearing him read those last lines as if to comfort me: Sancho Fergus! Don’t cry!/Or else, cry./On the body,/on the blued flesh, when it is/ laid out, see if you can find/the one flea which is laughing. I first read it in the early 70s, just after the death of my father. I found the poetry equally comforting and unnerving – still do.

I don’t recall ever seeing a photo of Galway Kinnell in a lantern-lit barn in Vermont. But it is how I have thought of him and how I will always see him.

The sign of peace – segno di pace – is at the very heart of the Roman Catholic Mass. I once shared the sign of peace with a Catholic priest with thin, bony, cold hands. It was an uneasy peace.

The Giugno in the poem is a semi-feral Italian cat. The priest and Giugno had much in common. Interestingly, the word feral can be translated several ways in Italian. The basic translation is ferino. But you could also use bestiale, funereo, or tetro. Indeed, the priest and Guigno had much in common.

Don Mager

January Journal:  Monday, January 14, 2013

With its open eye, moon watches the

calligraphy of Hawks sketched across

the clean sky.  One—a pair—now all at

once, six—arc and float.   The atmosphere

ambushes upturned hand-shaded eyes

with disbelieving amazement of

Robin eggshell—everywhere.  Touching

each compass point and mid-day hour, blue

goes on and on and on.   The languor

of Hawk flight belies its urgency

of hungry time.  As shadowed eyes and

upturned palm welcome evanescence

in the air, the moon’s far orbit rides

pallid inattentive apathy.

January Journal:  Monday, January 28, 2013

The creek’s bank-side shows its age-dry skin.

Where the dead grass’s hair thins, clay cracks

with crow’s feet creases.  Some spots are as

still and bald as any stone.  Exposed

like eviscerated nerves, dangling

above the creek bed’s trickle of slow

dementia, roots hang.  Arthritic gnarls

of ankle-thick Wisteria vines

cling desperately to tree trunks.  Like an

old friend making its daily visit

to the hospice, the dutiful

sun drags its cold shoulder across the

morning sky.  The creek looks up and asks:

Is that you, old fella’? Here again?

June Journal:   Wednesday, June 26, 2013

“And lord how they soar” neither blasphemes

nor reveres.  Midday the barrage of cars

vanishes and heat irons pavements.  The window

points out two Turkey Vultures bobbling

in the front lawn like wind-up fairground

curios. They twist the sheen of their

long necks as they beak the dead rabbit.

They point their throats to swallow.  Pink globs

string from their beaks.  Their neck sheens glint like

tinfoil.  The window can’t stop staring

out.  Such awkwardness in birds.  Listen.

A cyclist blasts the sound barrier

and streaks past.  First one then the other’s

wingspan takes flight “And lord how they soar.”

About Don Mager

Don Mager’s chapbooks and volumes of poetry are: To Track the Wounded One, Glosses, That Which is Owed to Death, Borderings, Good Turns, The Elegance of the Ungraspable, Birth Daybook, Drive Time and Russian Riffs.  He is retired with degrees from Drake University (BA), Syracuse University (MA) and Wayne State University (PhD).  He was the Mott University Professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University from 1998-2004 where he served as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters (2005-2011). As well as a number of scholarly articles, he has published over 200 poems and translations from German, Czech and Russian.  He lives in Charlotte, NC.

Us Four Plus Four is an anthology of translations from eight major Soviet-era Russian poets.  It is unique because it tracks almost a half century of their careers by simply placing the poems each wrote to the others in chronological order.   The 85 poems represent one of the most fascinating conversations in poems produced by any group of poets in any language or time period.  From poems and infatuation and admiration to anger and grief and finally to deep tribute, this anthology invites readers into the unfolding lives of such inimitable creative forces as Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva and Osip Mandelstam.

These poems are from my new, as yet unpublished manuscript volume entitled Present Tense.  Poems from this volume have been published or accepted by Iodine, Pif Magazine, Charlotte Viewpoint: Metropolitan Ideas & Art, San Pedro Review, The Tower, Camel Saloon, River Poets Journal, Blast Furnace, The Axe Factory, The Four Seasons Anthology (Hurricane Press), Jellyfish Whispers and a selection of them constitute the featured poet section of The LABLETTER 2015.

About The Poems

The poems are from a sequence of 365 poems in an as yet unpublished volume, . . . the present tense . . . Allen Road South, Charlotte, North Carolina.  Annus Mirabilis 2013.  The book recordsthe specificity of one place as an account of a “verifiable world.”   It fulfills Pasternak’s injunction:

The living, verifiable world is the only enterprise of the imagination that has ever succeeded and continues still to succeed.   Right here it continues successfully in its moment-by-moment newness.

The moment-by-momentness of each poem is limned by present tense verbs only.  A voice never identified as “I” but rather by its metonymies speaks each poem’s fleeting “thisness.”  Synesthesia startles readers’ ears, eyes, noses and tactile sensitivities with newness even as the journal’s place confines itself to one yard, garden and house.  Sameness and newness play out their tensions in unrhymed syllabic sonnets across whose fixed 126 syllables, sentences, phrases and lines play.  The poet’s “imagined ideal reader” might be one who keeps this journal beside her to read a poem a day throughout a year as the journal counterpoints her own heightened sense of presentness.

Since the mid-90s I have read and studied a number of Stalinist era writers and produced an opera a libretto about Anna Akhmatova, as well as translations of her, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, Mandel’shtam and others.  A number have been published over the years.  Pasternak’s great early collections have fascinated me because of the way his verbs animate the descriptions.  The above quoted injunction of his offered me a key to some degree as to how he creates these astonishing effects.  I gradually realized that his descriptions, especially of nature, never seek to memorialize a scene in some kind of generality: this is what a snowstorm is like; this is what spring thaw looks like.  Rather, with him it is always “this” snowstorm, this hour of thawing.  These ideas became the impetus or my own exploration of presnetness, thisness, thus . . . present tense…

Thomasina DeMaio

Interview with Thomasina DeMaio About her work Lawrence F

Nine Mile:   We love that picture of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, which is why we decided to use it as the cover of this issue of the magazine.  How did you come to meet him?

Thomasina:   Lawrence would come to the San Francisco Art Institute often when I was in school there in 1979 through 1985.  He’d always come on Fridays because there was an open drawing session on those days.  That’s how I met him.  I knew of him, of course.

Nine Mile:  The relationship developed from there?

Thomasina:  We still sort of only knew each other.  But then one day he breezed into my studio and said that he really liked the stretcher bars I was using.  These were reverse stretcher bars that gave a reverse facet on the front that popped the painting.  He said that he was going to use them with his paintings also.  I said, Gee, Lawrence, then everybody will think it’s yours.  And he said, no no, it’s okay.  Anyway, he started using the stretcher bars and we started seeing each other regularly at the Institute, having coffee, and we became friends.  When he’d go off to Europe or Colorado on a reading tour or whatever he’d let me use his studio at Hunter’s Point.  I started going to his drawing sessions on Saturday, and it went on like that over the years.  I got to know him well.  He gave me a show at the City Lights bookstore.

Nine Mile:  Funny that he’s this well-known poet, but he also wants to be a painter.

Thomasina:  Lawrence wanted to be an artist also, and so did a lot of those poets.

Nine Mile:  How did you come to paint him?

Thomasina:  At the time I was paining two or three portraits a week, and right then I was painting Gregory Corso, and then Micheline, and I figured Lawrence would be perfect.  I like to do things in series, to get some continuity.  I asked him and he came to my studio wearing all the same color blue denim.  That’s how I painted him.  I’ve lost those paintings.  Even the Micheline one was ripped off….

Nine Mile:  You were hanging out with these guys for awhile.

Thomasina:  Mostly with Jack Micheline.  The other guys made a big commotion when you we’re out in public with them.  You couldn’t have a nice quiet drink with them.

Nine Mile:  What about Kerouc?  Did you know him too?

Thomasina:  I didn’t know him, but the whole group of them were misogynist, except for Micheline.  He was always courteous to women, but the rest of them…. Of course, I’m from a different generation, and we saw things differently.  They were all from the fifties, and I was a hippie basically.  Different sensibilities.

Nine Mile:  Things must have worked out, because thEY kept coming back,

Thomasina:  Always.  They would come in as a crowd, and my husband would head out the door.  They had a big appetite for drugs, and he was a doctor.  It was not a good mix.

Nine Mile:  Some would say that they wrote the way they lived.

Thomasina:   From what I saw, that’s about right.

Nine Mile:  Have you read much of Ferlinghetti’s poetry?

Thomasina:   I have.  Some of it is terrific.  His Ode to Jack Kerouc is lovely.

disguised as an American fullback in plaid shirt

crossing and recrossing America

in speedy cars

I love that.  There are a lot of stories about Lawrence.  He really started publishing things on his own and in other places.

Nine Mile:  He became a real poetry entrepreneur.  Cooney Island of the Mind has sold what a million or so copies.  City Lights exploded.

Thomasina:  It started as a vanity press.  His first books were his own, Pictures of the Gone World, and then Rexroth, Patchen, Ginsberg, Levertov, all the rest.

Nine Mile:  Is he still around, are you still friends?

Thomasina:  He is.  I stopped drawing over there awhile ago, and he pretty much stopped drawing.  And when we’d go over there, a group of about five or six of us, he’d wind up sleeping on the sofa. He’s 96, and not looking so good.

Nine Mile:  What I noticed about the picture of him is the eyes.  So incredible.  It’s the first thing that grabs you.

Thomasina:   Well, that’s how he is.  Extremely intense when you’re around him.  Eye are like that today.  He really scans you with his blue piercing eyes.  The last time I saw him, he looked the same, those same intense eyes, and then he drank some wine and then went over and slept on the couch while the rest of us finished the session.

Note:   Jack Michelin, mentioned in this interview, was a poet and painter from the bronx who settled in San Francisco in the early ’60’s and became part of the beat Generation.  In 1957, Troubadour Press published his first book River of Red Wine, with an introduction by Jack Kerouc .  It was reviewed by Dorothy Parker in Esquire.  He published over twenty books, some of them mimeographs and chapbooks.  Micheline characterized the Beat movement as a product of media hustle, and hated being categorized as a Beat poet. He was also a painter, working primarily with gouache in a self-taught, primitive style.

About Thomasina DeMaio

Thomasina DeMaio was born in Elmira Ny and raised in Syracuse,educated in San Francisco.

About the Work

My statement or mission is just to PUSH PAINT. how does one write about ones self?  i can’t say much about my art except that I try to work everyday and incorporate it in my life as one would seek water daily. Without it I am not much of a communicator but through my art I can say so much. I can show you where one of the last public telephones in SF is. I also can show you buildings in San Francisco that no longer exist as the techies take over the city and “Zuck” tears down more to build his empire. I can show anyone at anytime where the best pupusa lady lurks competing only with the tamale lady who I have also documented in oil pigments. My smearing has taken me from the drag queens and wayward Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to San Francisco’s Fire Department.

Influenced by WPA murals and so many of those artists, Benton, Marsh combined with an absolute devotion to Robert Henri has led me down this path of figuring out how to push paint most effectively to get to the essence of the subject at hand. The first four letters of the word paint says it all.  I  two studios in SF,one at home and one in the Mission where I am doing an extensive documentation of the people before it is all gone . Pushing paint ,making art is one of the last good things to do in this world and I have a lot to learn, to see and record.

Lawrence F..1981.oil on canvas 36 by 28 inches

Selfie Hand 2015 8 x 10 inches inches oil on  board

The Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence 1990 oil on canvas  6 ft x 8 ft

The Mission District from Bernal Hts 2015 oil on canvas 14 x 16 inches

Tatia with Book 8 x10 inches 2015  oil on canvas

San Francisco from Sausalito 2015 oil on canvas 14 x 24 inches

Last Tango 1981 oil on canvas 6 feet x 10 feet

Liars Dice 1980 oil on canvas 6 feet x 8 feet

Selfie 2015 6 x 8 inches oil on carton board

Sister Lily White of the Superior Posterior ceramic.1990 24inches tall

Debra Hutchison

Buttes, Hoodoos, and The Crestview

The summer of 1964 my family traveled away far from our farm and herd of Holsteins. We escaped in our white ford fairlane dented by a hailstorm. Took to the highway. At our feet in the back seat sat a sack with chopped ham sandwiches on white bread with bright yellow mustard, bright yellow cheese curls, warm root beer.  After seven hours we entered the Badlands. Strange forms and shapes towered.  Shadow-clouds covered the ground.  Drove along with us.  Buttes and hoodoos.  I imagined Indians on the horizon.  They wanted to kill everyone but me.  I went with them.  On some ponies.  We rode off and left everyone burning.  In the car.  There was a Ghost Dance.  I saw herds of buffalo, running horses, fires burning high.  It was 102 degrees.  My pink underwear was clinging to wet blue vinyl.  Smoke blew around me.  Lipstick cigarettes.  Signals I could not understand.  After a ten-hour car ride, my father pulled into the Crestview.  White and low to the ground. We circled our wagons.   A woman with a tag Esther sat behind a window.  Neon sign flashing.  VACANACY. VACANCY. VACANCY.  Blond hair twirled around turquoise curlers.  From her printed housedress she pulled out keys. They jingled on her wrist like the jailor in the jailhouse.  In another hand a dog held like a baby.  She limped down to room 9 and threw open the curtains.  Her dog wet on the carpet.  She said she would give us a 20-dollar discount.  My father said we’d take it.  We hit the jackpot.  A cheap room with a pool.  I jumped in the water.  I forged the stream.  I looked for the hoodoos in the distance.  Looked for a warrior.  I was a wild-horse rider. A shadow shaped like a pillow hung over me.  I held my breath as long as I could.  Held my eyes open.  While I was under.  Walked around later with chlorine vision.  In the parking lot a man was wiping dust off his hubcap.  I pulled the straps up on my swimsuit. I begged my mother to braid my hair, but she was too tired.  In the mirror.  I tried to twist the three strands together.  Tried to find a feather.  It was dark.  It was backwards.  I had to fake it all.  I had to fake the whole thing.

Ode to Pluto

I refuse to let go of Pluto.

My tiny planet that drifted

on a hand-made mobile

like a dream.  Cut roughly

circles from a gray carton.

Pluto’s distance comforted me.

It was mine.

Small, obscure, uneventful

dangling in the universe far away

from places.  Larger or brighter.

Saturn with rings of fire.

Mars with possibilities.  Mercury

and Venus, dangerously close to the Sun.

Jupiter a giant.  Uranus and Neptune

paired in their cool blueness.

And Earth had us.

They all had something.

Pluto is the fly speck on the window.

The freckle in my right eye.

About Debra Hutchison

Her poems have been published in Southern Indiana Review, Flyway: A Literary Review, The Mid-America Review, Iowa Writes, an on-line publication at the University of Iowa, and the Comstock Review.  She grew up on a farm in central Iowa and currently lives in Syracuse, New York.

About the Poems

The poem “Buttes, Hoodoos, and the Crestview” was created through an exercise to push myself by changing form.  All of my poems were beginning to have the same shape, so I decided to play with a prose poem.  This poem is a celebration of a child’s imagination and how that imagination has the power to transcend ordinary experience.

The poem “Ode to Pluto” was created out of the loss I felt when I learned that Pluto was taken away as a planet.  The voice in this poem takes Pluto back.  The ending of this poem surprised me as I hope it surprises the reader.

Stephen Kuusisto

Notes, Divigations, Impromptus, & Asides:  Tate, Kerouc, Transtromer, & Hamill

How the New York Times Failed James Tate

One of my favorite quotes about obituary writers appears in Mark Helprin’s novel “Winter’s Tale” and it goes like this:

The obituary writers drew their incomplete sketches, touring through his life like travelers to England who do not ever see swans, sheep, bicycles, and blue eyes.

I was put in mind of Helprin’s squib when I fell onto William Grimes’ obit of the poet James Tate which was clearly ripped from the notebook of a lazy tourist. Given Mr. Tate’s prominence one can scarcely imagine a vaunted paper like the New York Times approving so many cliches in any paragraph let alone the opening one:

Mr. Tate burst on the poetry scene in 1967 with the collection “The Lost Pilot,” selected for publication in the Yale Series of Younger Poets while he was still a graduate student at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Julian Symons, in The New Statesman, greeted Mr. Tate as “an ironical, original, self-absorbed poet who glances with amusement at love, humanity, himself.”

And if that doesn’t satisfy your appetite for pap, hold on to your bowl for here’s the second paragraph:

A prolific writer, he turned out one collection after another, none of them slim. “The Ghost Soldiers,” published in 2008, contains nearly 100 poems. He won a wide following, especially among younger readers attracted by his colloquial style, his gift for making unexpected connections, and his ability to extract humor from dark places. John Ashbery, one of his most ardent admirers, called him “the poet of possibilities, of morph, of surprising consequences, lovely or disastrous.

Grimes’ meretricious blab (culled from second hand sources no less) laden with limp lingo and a patrician tone suggests the passing of a first rate American poet deserves nothing more than granulated rubber.

I had to rub my eyes. You’d imagine, reading this that James Tate turned out innumerable fat books of verse, all of them colloquial and vaguely adolescent. Moreover you’d assume the English countryside is home to tiny cows.

Later Grimes tries to right himself but fails to recognize the jokes buried in an interview with the poet Charles Simic and the parodic sensibility Tate brought to discussions about craft–an inheritance from Marcel DuChamp and Stephen Mallarme.

Indeed I thought of Mallarme while reading Grimes as he said famously a newspaper is fit only for wrapping fish.

No one outside of Norman Podhoretz would go to the obituaries for literary consciousness but let’s remember Walter Whitman’s optimistic suggestion that a nation of great poets should be a nation equally filled with great readers.

You will never know from Grimes that James Tate was a student of aleatoric findings in language; that he was deeply read in the contingencies of philosophy; and was a lyric poet of breathtaking originality.

I will let the poet have the last word:

Dear Reader

I am trying to pry open your casket

with this burning snowflake.

I’ll give up my sleep for you.

This freezing sleet keeps coming down

and I can barely see.

If this trick works we can rub our hands

together, maybe

start a little fire

with our identification papers.

I don’t know but I keep working, working

half hating you,

half eaten by the moon.

“Thank You Jack Kerouac”

I am not sentimental. I am very sentimental. I’m not easy. I’m very easy.  This morning I’m letting reality weigh itself. I’m very free.

Unlike Jack Kerouac I’m not in a hurry. Maybe that’s because I can’t drive.

(Well, blind people, “can” drive, but it’s not advisable, especially if we generally like humanity, and I “do” love my odd, dented, still aborning fellow citizens…)

I’m free…and yes, I’m thinking of Kerouac this morning in particular:

i will write

it, all the talk of the world

everywhere in this morning, leav-

ing open parentheses sections

for my own accompanying inner

thoughts-with roars of me

all brain-all world

roaring-vibrating-I put

it down, swiftly, 1,000 words

(of pages) compressed into one second

of time-I’ll be long

robed & long gold haired in

the famous Greek afternoon

of some Greek City

(from Daydreams for Ginsberg)

Ha! Inner thoughts, with layers of roar—brain that!

Architectonic thoughts, striated, simultaneous, with electrolysis—turn it up!

Fast Greek! Kero-stotle! Naked! Dancing in the Agora! Open parentheses…

Reminds me of the “lecture” (the big one) about the Greeks, back in college, Freshman year.

Old Prof stands, looks at hundreds of students, raises his index finger, sez:

“What’s the first thing Aristotle did in the morning?”

No answer from the students.

“He hiked up his toga and took a piss!”

Students didn’t know if it was OK to laugh.

Kero-stotle, robed & long gold haired in the famous Greek afternoon, takes a pee….

Thinks meantime, 1000 words (of pages) compressed into one second.

Kero-stotle wants to go exceptionally fast.

He thinks time is running out.

Those guys over in Jersey invented the atom bomb.

All world, roaring.

Don’t sit there, so weak minded.

Do the Whitman “thing”—go up on the tenement roof and make barbaric noises.

Even Barbarians had points of view.

Write fast.

Drive faster.

Advantage over old Greeks: automobile.

Pounding, seething across Indiana, telephone poles lifting like they’d been electroshocked.

Poetry has advantages over prose:

It extends your eyelashes.

More feeling, less bloat.

“How do you know you’re alive, Son?”

“Because zig zag lines of lightning pour along my arms, officer.”

Even the Greeks would have had difficulty making sense of Indiana.

Jack Kerouac. A better poet than he was a prose writer:

211th Chorus

The wheel of the quivering meat

conception

Turns in the void expelling human beings,

Pigs, turtles, frogs, insects, nits,

Mice, lice, lizards, rats, roan

Racinghorses, poxy bucolic pigtics,

Horrible unnameable lice of vultures,

Murderous attacking dog-armies

Of Africa, Rhinos roaming in the

jungle,

Vast boars and huge gigantic bull

Elephants, rams, eagles, condors,

Pones and Porcupines and Pills-

All the endless conception of living

beings

Gnashing everywhere in Consciousness

Throughout the ten directions of space

Occupying all the quarters in & out,

From supermicroscopic no-bug

To huge Galaxy Lightyear Bowell

Illuminating the sky of one Mind-

Poor!

I wish I was free

of that slaving meat wheel

and safe in heaven dead.

Poor Jack Kerouac! The body is a prison. His. Ours. And even if you didn’t think so, say, because you love your Ivory Soap, the ten directions of space will finish you off just as surely as the attacking dog-armies…Ach! What a mortal mess. What meat bags we are! All of us. Soap only masks the inevitable. Poor Jack! Gnashing everywhere in consciousness! No respite, no matter where you look in creation! From virus to supernova—everything is excreting from its bowels, what’s an amateur Buddhist, ex-Catholic to do? Play his guitar of course. His blue guitar. “I wish I was free/of that slaving meat wheel/and safe in heaven dead.”

There’s no evidence that “safe” counts in Heaven—one must fairly ask (as Alan Turing did) if consciousness can exist at tall outside the body. You see? Kerouac can’t resist jumping from Buddhism to Catholicism at thinned out edges of his poem.

I love him for that.

I love that he’s just like us.

Blues. Bravado. Wishes. A few lies. Some dreams. And he can make you laugh or cry. All while taking dizzying steps.

Kerouac the poet, writes an elegy for Charley Parker:

241st Chorus

And how sweet a story it is

When you hear Charley Parker

tell it,

Either on records or at sessions,

Or at official bits in clubs,

Shots in the arm for the wallet,

Gleefully he Whistled the

perfect

horn

Anyhow, made no difference.

Charley Parker, forgive me-

Forgive me for not answering your eyes-

For not having made in indication

Of that which you can devise-

Charley Parker, pray for me-

Pray for me and everybody

In the Nirvanas of your brain

Where you hide, indulgent and huge,

No longer Charley Parker

But the secret unsayable name

That carries with it merit

Not to be measured from here

To up, down, east, or west-

-Charley Parker, lay the bane,

off me, and every body

Thank you Jack Kerouac. Thank you for writing ”Nirvanas of your brain”—just the right gift for Charley Parker’s ghost—“merit/Not to be measured from here”. Thank you Jack Kerouac for finally answering Charley Parker’s eyes. Thank you for writing a jazz prayer. Thank you for thinking of a horn player as a secret, unsayable angel. Thank you for praying to his spirit: “lay the bane,/off me, and every body”. Let us be relieved, every one, from the terrors of addiction and money and hungers. And thank you for the tenderness, Jack Kerouac. Maybe it makes no difference but I’m not convinced and neither were you. Thank you for not being convinced.

Oh and you were dirty and funny just like us, Jack:

Hitchhiker

Tryna get to sunny Californy’ –

Boom. It’s the awful raincoat

making me look like a selfdefeated self-murdering imaginary gangster, an idiot in a rueful coat, how can they understand my damp packs – my mud packs –

„Look John, a hitchhiker’

„He looks like he’s got a gun underneath that I. R. A. coat’

‘Look Fred, that man by the road’ „Some sexfiend got in print in 1938 in Sex Magazine’ –

„You found his blue corpse in a greenshade edition, with axe blots’

I’ve hitchhiked some. Blind. Walking dizzying steps of days and nights in America’s liminal spaces, half in, half out of culture, twisting by the side of the road. It’s a liberated vagrancy.

Boom. They drive right past. “I wouldn’t want to ride with you anyway…”

Jack, America, properly, at its best, was always shabby. (How Lewis and Clark must have stank!)

Thank you for your Haikus:

Haiku (The low yellow…)

The low yellow

moon above the

Quiet lamplit house.

**

Haiku

Birds singing

in the dark

—Rainy dawn

**

Early morning gentle rain,

two big bumblebees

Humming at their work

**

Bluejay drinking at my

saucer of milk,

Throwing his head back

**

Men and women

Yakking beneath

the eternal void

**

In my medicine cabinet

the winter fly

has died of old age

**

Shall I break God’s commandment?|

Little fly

Rubbing its back legs

**

My pipe unlit

beside the Diamond

Sutra – what to think?

**

Early morning yellow flowers,

thinking about

the drunkards of Mexico.

**

No telegram today

only more leaves

fell.

**

Nightfall,

boy smashing dandelions

with a stick.

**

Holding up my

purring cat to the moon

I sighed.

**

Drunk as a hoot owl,

writing letters

by thunderstorm.

**

Empty baseball field

a robin

hops along the bench.

**

All day long

wearing a hat

that wasn’t on my head.

**

Crossing the football field

coming home from work –

the lonely businessman.

**

After the shower

among the drenched roses

the bird thrashing in the bath.

**

Snap your finger

stop the world –

rain falls harder.

**

Nightfall,

too dark to read the page

too cold.

**

Following each other

my cats stop

when it thunders.

**

Wash hung out

by moonlight

Friday night in May.

**

The bottoms of my shoes

are clean

from walking in the rain.

**

Glow worm

sleeping on this flower –

your light’s on.

**

Thank you Jack Kerouac. For allowing your journeys to visit me. For saying there is nothing to be astonished about; there is everything to be astonished about.

For saying we can try out a hundred masks, then throw them all away before the void.

For daring to be the schoolboy who delightedly writes and rewrites misspelled word.

I like you better when you’re not in a car. You were a fine poet who got lured into prose. I think the skyscrapers hurt you.

I like you better when you stand before your bathroom mirror.

I like you better when you express your feelings with a broken pencil.

I am not sentimental. I am very sentimental. I’m not easy. I’m very easy.

This morning I’m letting reality weigh itself. I’m very free.

Transtromer

I lost a poet this morning for that’s how it feels: the death of the writer is personal. In this case the poet is Tomas Transtromer. I feel the loss of a friend. Perhaps I don’t experience this with every poet. But when a lyric writer crosses over there’s a stitch in my ribcage. With Tomas Transtromer I always felt I had a secret friend. Those of us who love poetry, who in small or large ways have endeavored to live by it—that transitive and delicate approach to phenomena we call “the imagination”—are heartened when a writer suddenly says the world is still being born as Transtromer does in his poem “The Half-Finished Heaven”:

Despondency breaks off its course.

Anguish breaks off its course.

The vulture breaks off its flight.

The eager light streams out,

even the ghosts take a draft.

And our paintings see daylight,

our red beasts of the Ice Age studios.

Everything begins to look aoun.

We walk in the sun in hundreds.

Each man is a half-open door

leading to a room for everyone.

The endless ground under us.

The water is shining among the trees.

The lake is a window into the earth.

Excerpt From: Tomas Tranströmer. “The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/WAORD.l

**

In these times we must be reminded of the mysteries of consciousness and water shining. Tomas Transtromer is a good friend, a fellow introvert who has learned to live in the big world, who’s endeavored to do some decent work with damaged children, who came home at night in the Baltic dark and played Haydn on his piano, who whispered in our ears, each of us is still half open.

Imagine that.

Habitude

I walk with a stick and a dog, down river, up, no one can tell me how its done. A few understand and sing as I pass—the songs are fine—but there are turns in a stream where songs fall apart, they’re only melody.

When I was a boy a stove abandoned and filled with crickets was opera—blind kid, twilight blues, the moon coming on blues, and so my first lesson. Later Auden would refine it: “the roses really want to grow”.

Crickets sing a house—find homes—say something.

Oh but the walking blues, songs to poems, walking with a stick and dog.

Michael Cuddihy: Each time breath draws through me,/ I know it’s older than I am.

Basho: The journey itself is my home.

Levertov: I saw/ a leaf: I shall not betray you.

Hsieh Ling-Yun: Joy and sorrow pass, each by each,/ failure at one moment, happy success the next./ But not for me. I have chosen freedom/from the world’s cares. I chose simplicity.

Dog and stick, down river, up, a crescent moon, poems remembered.

Rexroth: Water/ Flows around and over all/ Obstacles, always seeking/ The lowest place./ Equal and/ Opposite, action and reaction,/ An invisible light swarms/ Upward without effort.

Niels Bohr: Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.

Jan Kaplinsi: The sea doesn’t want to make waves./The wind doesn’t want to blow./Everything wants balance, peace,/and seeking peace has no peace./If you understand this, does it/

change something? Can you be peaceful/even where there is no peace?

Sam Hamill: I’d kiss a fish/and love a stone/and marry the winter rain/if I could persuade this battered earth/to let me make it home.

Kuusisto: I’m filled with tangled string. A look contains the history of man. (Auden) Some days I’m grateful I can’t see your faces. Mutual need. Mutual aid. Simple. But even Anarchists are specious. I once introduced myself to Utah Philips, said, in the manner of all young pepole: “Its a thrill to meet another anarchist.” He glared at me. Said nothing. And of course I couldn’t see his face. His anarchy had a small “a”.

Stick and dog…

Sam Hamill: Fish, bird, stone, there’s something/I can’t know, but know the same:/I hear the rain inside me/only to look up/into a bitter sun.

Sam Hamill: There are some to whom a place means nothing,/for whom the lazy zeroes/

a goshawk carves across the sky/are nothing,/for whom a home is something one can buy./

I have long wanted to say,/just once before I die,/I am home.

Sam Hamill:  the poem is a mystery, no matter/ how well crafted:/is a made thing/that embodies nature./And like Zen,/the more we discuss it,/the further away..

Muriel Rukeyser:

We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer,

or the look, the lake in the eye that knows,

for the despair that flows down in widest rivers,

cloud of home; and also the green tree of grace,

all in the leaf, in the love that gives us ourselves.

The word of nourishment passes through the women,

soldiers and orchards rooted in constellations,

white towers, eyes of children:

saying in time of war What shall we feed?

I cannot say the end.

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.

Not all things are blest, but the

seeds of all things are blest.

The blessing is in the seed.

This moment, this seed, this wave of the sea, this look, this instant of love.

Years over wars and an imagining of peace.  Or the expiation journey

toward peace which is many wishes flaming together,

fierce pure life, the many-living home.

Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all

new techniques for the healing of the wound,

and the unknown world.  One life, or the faring stars.

Sam Hamill: Poetry transcends the nation-state. Poetry transcends government. It brings the traditional concept of power to its knees. I have always believed poetry to be an eternal conversation in which the ancient poets remain contemporary, a conversation inviting us into other languages and cultures even as poetry transcends language and culture, returning us again and again to primal rhythms and sounds.

Robert Bly:

Our veins are open to shadow, and our fingertips

Porous to murder. It’s only the inattention

Of the prosecutors that lets us go to lunch.

Reading my old letters I notice a secret will.

It’s as if another person had planned my life.

Even in the dark, someone is hitching the horses.

That doesn’t mean I have done things well.

I have found so many ways to disgrace

Myself, and throw a dark cloth over my head.

Why is it our fault if we fall into desire?

The eel poking his head from his undersea cave

Entices the tiny soul falling out of Heaven.

So many invisible angels work to keep

Us from drowning; so many hands

reach Down to pull the swimmer from the water.

Even though the District Attorney keeps me

Well in mind, grace allows me sometimes

To slip into the Alhambra by night.

Kuusisto:

Life in Wartime

There are bodies that stay home and keep living.

Wisteria and Queen Anne’s lace

But women and children, too.

And countless men at gasoline stations.

Schoolteachers who resemble candles,

Boys with metabolisms geared to the future,

Musicians trying for moon effects.

The sky, which cannot expire, readies itself with clouds

Or a perfect blue

Or halos or the amoebic shapes

Of things to come.

The railway weeds are filled with water.

How do living things carry particles

Of sacrifice? Why are gods talking in the corn?Enough to feel the future underfoot

Someone is crying three houses down.

Many are gone or are going.

Paulo Freire:

Dominated and exploited in the capitalist system, the lower classes need—at the same time that they engage in the process of forming an intellectual discipline—to create a social, civic, and political discipline, which is absolutely essential to the democracy that goes beyond the pure bourgeois and liberal democracy and that, finally, seeks to conquer the injustice and the irresponsibility of capitalism.

Sam Hamill:

Do your homework. Stand for something. Define what you stand for and live for it and be willing to die by it. It’s the same advice I give a new poet, or for that matter, an old poet. Or a young Buddhist.

Sam Hamill:

You know, poetry’s job is to make us feel good. Poetry exists to allow us to express our innermost feelings. There isn’t one role for poetry in society. There are many roles for poetry. I wrote a poem to seduce my wife. I wrote a poem when I asked her to marry me. Poetry got me laid. Poetry got me married. I wrote a number of poems about Kah Tai lagoon, when Safeway was building that huge, ugly store down there where I used to love to watch the birds nest. That political poem, or environmental poem, was unsuccessful because Safeway built there anyway. And yet the poem has something to say today, as it did then. And I speak here only of my own poems. The agenda for every poet has to be different because most of us write from direct human experience in the world.

Auden:

Can poets (can men in television)

Be saved? It is not easy

To believe in unknowable justice…

Sam Hamill:

Black Marsh Eclogue

Although it is midsummer, the great blue heron

holds darkest winter in his hunched shoulders,

those blue-turning-gray clouds

rising over him like a storm from the Pacific.

He stands in the black marsh

more monument than bird, a wizened prophet

returned from a vanished mythology.

He watches the hearts of things

and does not move or speak. But when

at last he flies, his great wings

cover the darkening sky, and slowly,

as though praying, he lifts, almost motionless,

as he pushes the world away.

There are turns in a stream where songs fall apart, they’re only melody. But poetry pushes the world outward, then pulls it inward, with blue-turning-gray clouds.

Kuusisto:

I’m walking in a yielding air beside my dog, do you understand?

There are no faded hopes beside her, do you understand?

She doesn’t care about my eyes.

She doesn’t care about the heroes on TV.

She lives without protective lies.

Look at us, we’re walking through pitch darkness.

Sam Hamill:

Poetry is one of the ten thousand paths to the Buddha; through poetry (as various as that word may be), we may find self-realization and do away with the “I-and-thou” and competitive mind-set that makes war possible (as well as poetry contests) and we come into a world of only “we,” we-are-oneness” in our struggle in this sentient interdependent world. To value life requires valuing the cosmos that makes life possible. How can we actually learn what love is without learning to fully love this earth on which we stand? —The very dirt and stone of it. We must protect it from capitalism just as we must protect those who suffer most from organized oppression. We must love and resist and rebel.

NOTE:  These pieces can also be found at Stephen Kuusisto’s blog, Planet of the Blind.

Thank You

Thank you to the Central New York Community Foundation, which has generously provided a grant to aid in the publication of Nine Mile Magazine and of our Nine Mile book series.

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