Also from the archives, 1992.
Blue Moon Diner
He might have been blind.
In my hourglass
recollection, I don’t believe
he ever looked at me
with his eyes–spacious,
window-like; each blink
the metamorphosis of a streetlight
from red to green
from grey to gray.
Aged cacti prickles
crowned his head; roadmapped
baldness charted the constellations
of his travels. To hear
in my novice ears was to see
wisdom printed on a napkin.
He said I looked New Englander, like himself.
I heard him say sheltered,
of all that is reachable, witness
of revolution, student
of places where clouds paint
shadows on the landscape,
his slight cricket body
I saw myself journeying
through time tattered windows;
I saw the vast-heavy earth
deflate to a school child’s globe
filled with places I will go to
when I know the color of every star.
I sipped coffee, sugarless.
I did not ask his name.
I did not think
to ask his name.
My latest collection, Mouthbrooders, is set for an official release on June 10. Order now from Homebound Publications and use INDIESTRONG when you check out to receive 20% off on your entire order.
During six months of vocal cord paralysis, author and professor Amy Nawrocki turned to the written word and fell in love with language again. The result of this exploration is her stunning collection Mouthbrooders, full of sounds and their echoes—ravens screeching, eggs cracking, and acorns falling. As Nawrocki struggles to find her own voice again, she midwives the voices of catastrophe, of memory, and of the small miracles of everyday life.Mouthbrooders, published by Homebound Publications
Tears come down wet, whether in fear, grief, delight, or gratitude.
Read my latest essay, “Failing Feet and Finger Lakes” in the autumn issue of Fired Up! Creative Expression for Challenging Times.
My poem, “Lucifer Falls, New York,” was also inspired by the gorges and trailheads near Cayuga Lake. What’s the connection between poetry and prose? Read more about the lines between them in my essay from Re-Imagining.
Like war planes, a crowd
of raptors scull through the blank
and cloudless sky. One
after another, they stream
over the open paddock
of midsummer green, advance
toward a still and speechless
line of trees. Their portents
reach the forest’s door; needles
of pine brace between hard clay
and treachery. The bone black jaw
of a red-bellied snake ruins
a toad’s last chance for escape.
He is in the middle of it now,
like the fawn whose femur lay
furloughed in the gorge,
trespassing on the slick ink
of river-smoothed black rocks.
“Lucifer Falls, New York” appears in Reconnaissance, published by Homebound Publications. This collection and my memoir The Comet’s Tail are both available wherever books are sold, especially at Homebound’s online store. Support Indie Presses and shop Small Business Saturday.
About this time every year, when the leaves begin to fall and the soil is perpetually wet and cushiony, I begin to long, strangely enough, for comfortable measurements. The three deer who’ve visited our lawn came back this second morning, so that’s a start. The tiny, unrecognizable bird (sparrow? finch?) fluttered in and out of the green down of a dense cedar pine. She disappeared into the brush, gone long enough for me to miss her, then darted back into sight without a “word to tell me who [she] was.”
Scanning the autumn woods and contemplating birds and future snow, I spot a recently constructed woodpile and recall Robert Frost’s poem “The Wood-pile.” Like my fluttering finch and grazing deer, I’d like to be “someone who [lives] in turning to fresh tasks” enough to forget the handiwork raking leaves, snapping photos, tracing straight lines. Enough to read the landscape with the mind to “go on farther.”
This close-read of the poem appeared in the winter 2007-2008 issue of Umbrella: A Journal of Kindred Poetry and Prose.
In the often overlooked poem “The Wood-Pile,” Robert Frost explores the human life cycle, particularly the process of aging. The speaker is in a middle stage of life, about to embark on the winter of old age, which corresponds to the setting of the poem. Because the speaker is “out walking” in this cold setting, “far from home,” he is transplanted and in an uncomfortable environment. The reader can surmise that a transformation is likely to take place here. The first scene’s elements, “hard snow,” the view of trees “all in lines” that were “too much alike to mark by name or place” give a bleak and uncertain sense to the scene. In this manner, nature is discomforting. It is only the “hard snow” that keeps him there, as the culmination of his life work in old age will give purpose.
He encounters a bird; the bird leads him to a woodpile bound by a tree and a stake. We can read that the bird’s literal purpose is to show dissimilarity between man and bird and the misunderstanding that occurs between them, largely due to the bird’s innocence or naiveté. Bird and narrator are separated literally by a tree: “He was careful/To put a tree between us when he lighted.” Metaphorically, they are separated by age and wisdom. The bird represents a youthful figure, being “small” and foolish, taking “everything said as personal to himself,” as one unsophisticated in the ways of the world might do.
Similarly, like a young person, the bird mistakenly thinks the speaker is after his tail feather. The white feather, in contrast to winter’s white, could be taken as a symbol of innocence. Like the trees that are “too much alike to mark or name a place by,” the bird gives “no word to tell me who he was.” Both the tree and bird’s identities are lost in anonymity. Before the speaker is able to forget the bird for the pile, he must let the bird lead him there. These lines serve not only as transitions, but as thematic devices. Perhaps in his own younger days, he might have gone the way of the bird, but now does not wish the bird “good-night.”
With his description of the woodpile, the speaker contrasts earlier images by stating “not another like it could I see.” Unlike the trees and bird, the decaying woodpile is unique. He also moves from living images to the “dead” woodpile, and here the poem takes a dramatic turn. Frost states, “It was older sure than this year’s cutting,” telling us that the woodpile represents the declining years of life. A pristine quality prevails near the pile as “no runner tracks…looped near it.” And: “The wood was gray and bark warping off it/And the pile somewhat sunken.” Such lines evoke an aging man, his hair grey and his head balding, his body and bones sloped drooping. The vine, like a man’s work, wraps or consumes his life, a theme that echoes in the last lines. The growing tree and falling stake contrast, and represent what holds the aging man—his living familial ties and his cane.
At the emotional fulcrum of the poem, the poet looks at what has come before—the bird, the pile—and works toward a contemplative resolution. The final lines are the antithesis of what has come before, showing us there is purpose. On the one hand, the poet asks what kind of person could leave such art idle, while on the other asserts that art has a function of its own. In aging, we often think our usefulness will decay and we will be abandoned by “someone who lived in turning fresh tasks.” But Frost does not leave the pile “far from a useful fireplace” without final value. Though abandoned, it “warms the frozen swamp.” In a remarkable reversal of common thought, Frost conjectures that it may be in the winter of life when we find fulfillment. He certainly concludes that work and art have persistent, smoldering meaning, even beyond a living end.
When I switched from squats to deadlifts a few weeks ago, I have to admit I was a little sad to give away one metaphor–carrying myself out of a burning building–for that of another–lifting the dead. But I got over it pretty quick, metaphorically at least.
And I could say that my efforts are wrapped around notions of becoming a new, better, stronger person by disposing of that old, “dead” self. I could say that with every lift I’m fighting off the terrors of a bleak, immobile future. I could say that weight lifting allows me to lift away a yolk of self-doubt and emerge, 82.5 pounds later with superpower insight and unwavering badassness. But that’s not the case at all.
You won’t believe me, but I do it for words.
Squat: to “thrust down with force,” (modern English) from the Old French, “esquatir” (to flatten) by way of Latin “cogere” (compel). Crush, crouch in hiding.
The origin of “deadlift” apparently dates back to the Roman empire, to soldiers lifting the dead off the battlefield. A literal origin, we could say.
Lift: from Old Norse “lypta” (“upper room, sky air”) and Middle English “luft” (“air, sky, heaven”).
And also this: Dead: of water, “still, standing,” from Proto-Germanic.
I do it because poetry is strong and words matter. So, this too:
On a good day the bar is clear, cage
empty, uncluttered. On a good day
I have to stack my own black disks
and clip them tight. One solitary
bough waits for me to strap it onto
my back and climb the mountain
of steel and circumstance.
I brace, measure my grip, shoulders
strong and lithe, and command muscle
to contract. No chalk, no gloves, no talk,
no audience of men, no breath besides
this one. In the mirror I see her,
the one who devours concrete,
chase the past away with stinging arrows.
Byron and Shelley
As we trudged along the varied paths
of the Highland Way you did not let go
to cry, though legs ached with pain
and skewed nerves slipped out of place
screaming for you to stop.
Our last night before we go home,
I read Trelawny’s Recollections
of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron:
Percy’s funeral muddies my mind,
but I cannot unhinge the sable-eyed rival
or the torture of a lame and disfigured foot
that shamed Byron all his days. How skilled
we are at pushing our deformities into
the deepest alcove then turning away from them,
lest they outpace and overcome us.
A red-haired boy—more than a boy—
a young man—travels with us
on the flight back home. His father
who is grey and wears glasses
accompanies him. I see that the boy
is blind, and think he is—how
to say this kindly—lame of mind,
though as I watch him and his father
pace back to their seats, I see that he is
purely sightless, and I feel cruel for thinking
it was something more. All this time
I thought that it was me we were walking for,
the mess upon me and the volume of days
yet unwritten tensing with uncertainty,
smudged with hieroglyphs of caned figures
and the imposing arc of wheels.
Waiting out the rain in Philadelphia
my head slumped in exhaustion, your legs
extended in a futile stretch, I grasp
what it was we were really walking for:
the German girls whom we’ll not see again;
for Gerry, our sturdy guardian, agile as a buoy,
flecks of white in his hair and a harness of years
on his back; for the moments between the rain;
what every boy’s blindness wants to possess;
for Byron’s feet and the contents of Shelley’s coat pockets
washed up on a shore we haven’t yet visited
and may not ever walk upon.
The poem appears in Reconnaissance, published in 2017 by Homebound Publications. Louis Édouard Fournier, The Cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley, oil on canvas, Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Just released, the first episode of The Vanguard Podcast featuring writers David K. Leff, Katherine Hauswirth, and me, along with musician Lys Guillorn. Join these conversations at the Forefront of Creativity with hosts L.M. Browning and Kelly Kancyr.
See also The Vanguard Podcast to subscribe (or listen on iTunes, YouTube, and more).
This episode includes a conversation between me and L.M Browning about my poetry, teaching, my inspiration for writing, and finding my way into prose. My essay “Giving Up the Choke Hold” is a tangent to The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory, so I’m excited the podcast is available now. Both start at about the 19-minute mark.
Here’s a poem from Reconnaissance to celebrate The Vanguard Podcast’s release.
what a line looks like
on a page, I unwrap
a notebook and tune
to Charlie Parker. If I Should
Lose You, wait for the record,
metal now and shiny,
to hiccup into
its grooves. Scattered
over an unseen stave of five
parallel lines, the blue
narcotic notes from
a saxophone scatter
in a wind tunnel.
Words hold her steady in the dizziness of descent.
“Circumstance” was the second place winner of the 2018 Hamden (CT) Arts Commission Poetry Award, co-sponsored by the Hamden Symphony Orchestra.
The staircase leads down from the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) in Delft, The Netherlands.