A Fox, A Bear, and A River: Summer 2006 Poetry Selections

When summer arrives, living becomes much more simple. Coats, scarves, boots and gloves are discarded for the freedom generated by warmth on bare skin.

Children seem instinctively to relish this change of season. As Durenda writes in "Summer Appetite," when we observe youngsters we begin “to understand the sour sweetness of / children sun burnt silly in the sand(.)”

Nature’s knowledge, unlike human understanding, remains unspoken but is heard by anyone caring to listen. Two poets this month encountered that wisdom in the form of animals — a fox and a bear — and a river.

For American Academy of Poets award-winner Emily DiGiovanni and her poem “The River and the Rock,” a woman and a fox are “(t)wo strays brought together by / a river.” Yet the woman prefers the rock.

For poet and editor Susan Deer Cloud, a bear and a river offer insights that are only gleaned from nature: “Indian girl / journeying with Bear to the river / with the name that some humans / touched too close once, / strangers forcing Indian girls / into a
tamer world.”

The wisdom of natural things shines through all the poems included here. Listen very closely, and perhaps you’ll hear even beyond the words that are being used.

Charles H. Johnson
Poetry Editor

 

SUMMER APPETITE

A poem by Durenda

one's mind must
fry, popping and crispy on sidewalks
yellowed like bright leaves left on the balcony too
long
a jaundiced dying reflecting in hot-blooded waves
to get to the meat of the matter
of summer
and have lemonade eyes with pineapple smiles
to understand the sour sweetness of
children sun burnt silly in the sand

Durenda — durendax@aol.com — lives in Sky Valley, Calif., and has attended UC Berkeley.

 

A POEM

A poem by Howard Zogott
                     For W.N.K.

Here is a note you must answer

at once — but before you reply,

notice how it fills the whole house

with something like a drop of musk

and/or music. Read it again;

observe how it almost resists

intelligence and that it is

and is not an equation.

It bears a heartbeat shockingly

recognizable and the breath

of anyone’s lips mouthing the words;

it contains bread and must suffice.

It’s the incense of friends sitting

in the kitchen smoking cigars,

the feel of death on their fingertips,

recalling the pratfalls of love.

Osip says it is a message

in a bottle from the shipwrecked…

it’s not a map you can follow

without changing destinations.

Howard Zogott — hzogott@cranburypubliclibrary.org —
is director of the Cranbury, N.J., Public Library.

 

Featured Poet: Five Poems by Emily DiGiovanni

JUDGMENT

On first snow,
the city streets
might be mistaken
for a country road

if imagination
plucked a thread,
some lint,
a tattered patch,
then, it’s overcoat

I walk home by landmarks:

the white porch lights strung
with the planned carelessness
of a woman wearing a shawl,

past the beetled hum of hospitals,
their bricks and stones bright,
    yet eerie

Life, unmarked or pockmarked,
is still a cycle of eternal
mouths shaped in ‘why?’

and within the shadows
    of sunken cars,
three gray cats cross my path
Like rootless men,
they wander by instinct, softly

One, with lighthouse eyes,
keeps mankind at bay the longest
Yowling with relevance –
bristling at the futility of a breath

Nearby, an aged woman sighs
against a Church of Christ
    baptized in streetlight
She clenches her elbows,
avoiding
a prayer

“We are wanderers.”
She breaks the silence
A Goya crone,
her black patch made innocent
with hearts and stars
like the stick-on earrings
    of a girl

“This was your first love?”
Staring from a stoop,
a father asks a son
too young it seems to have had
  more than one.

Oh, snippets of Words cut with
  embroidery scissors,
butcher knives

And Eyes, for judgment

Open street. Door closed.

 

BELFAST LINEN FACTORIES

When we walked along the River Lagan
picking up thistledown and one lone pearl,
we were not thinking that this was once a place
where women were fined for singing and fixing
their hair

When we pressed our feet in the rain-sodden earth,
midnight walking, half past, one, two, three,
we were not thinking that the bullhorn ghosts
would be been sounding soon,
lassoing twelve hour days to feed the fabric factories

When your face glowed with fire under street lights
and river lights
and the natural light
that was simply you,
we were not thinking that within a month,
maybe a few,
a face became death white,
death green,
old at twenty, one, two

I intruded on a place that, in absence,
let light through the cracks for less than a breath
A soft branch falling, only vaguely heard
Even so, my heart is heavy with a separate history,
constructed with leaves from backyard trees

I do not wear my name on ears, neck, skin
I have nothing of worth to show I existed
in that labored past where blonde was a color
that made men smile
and dark was a night that we walked on together,
lovers who never touched

Wrapped in dark fabric, saving face
Your hair hedged over locked features
forming puddles, circles, beginnings, ends
Protecting you from the good night warmth of another
that hardly deserved to understand your anger
Your rage at not belonging


But then you were not a woman with her hair tied back
to prevent the pull of quicksilver machines
Nor with moist breasts revealed to save your heart
from suffocating

You were lucky
You survived mostly because you did not belong
Your pain, like mine, was buried elsewhere

 

DUST TO DUST

She hides behind the duct-taped couch

Ear to wall, biting lip, ignorant of

     the taste of blood

Watching her mother darn, darn mother

Watching her mother wait, maybe,

for two lights to pull through the silence

though the gravel has settled for the night

With the pull of a thread,

a hand through the crack

she snips the separation between

what they both know

differently

They cling, dance, fight off the damp

     of rooms left empty

Or worse, rooms with one breath

The record plays as flowers bud

The record plays,

becomes a chant

Chanting,

chanting,

long hair swaying

as flowers grow

and gold chains glint

on skin lacking light

Chanting,

chanting

as flowers bloom

in dust-clumped corners

and headlights hit the gravel,

the walls,

the wells of necks

in need of light

The girl falls back and sleeps among

     the dusty flowers

dreaming of two dark forms

moving in circles,

moving in darkness

only broken by the glint of gold chains

Their love small, strong crosses of light

in a world of darkness and dust

 

SANTA MARIA

I.

He walked in circles around the station
waiting to catch her truly alone

She always trusted others
through an eyelash or crow’s feet
Features linked to old teachers
or uncles long gone

A shape of the body,
a scent of cologne,
a cut of the jacket
made her feel it was safe to eat sweets
and snitch sips from another’s glass

They spoke in gestures, linking arms,
losing faith
He pressed his palm on her mother’s name
etched on a flat gold coin
Forced his tongue between her lips
As the clock hit midnight,
he made sure to hold on

And jingle keys in her eyes
to show he can drive
her to his tiny apartment with a cold smell
and the sick feeling that this is only right
for one of them

The lonely one
The desperate one

The one who would not be moving on
in one day,
one week,
one year

But will stay circling the station,
waiting for midnight to kiss a woman
he hardly knows



II.

That night,
she ran
She woke
alone in a dark room eating old bread
and cheap cheese
thinking, “Where are the flowers,
the chanting of prayers?”

There were only echoes of men
calling their children to bed,
The clicking of heels that she swears
nuns would never wear

Just stylish mommas with sick heads
and shiny hair,
desperate to be sexy in that Italian way –
smoking sticks with broken bones,
wearing heavy gold

Awake,
she stared at the object that prompted him
to dance like a girl, link arms like two women
and cry that he was truly alone in this world

Awake,
she brushed the hard crumbs off her lips
and tried to forget that with each toll of the clock
he tore a piece of trust away
With each bruise of the wrist she wished
she could become a fighter, a destroyer, a thief,
a man

 

THE RIVER OR THE ROCK

While resting by a river,
I found a mirror on a rock –
a challenge offered by a passing
           stray
“What do you value most?
The mirror or the rock?” asked
           the fox

With one foot still dangling in
the river,
I answered, “The stone, of course,
the rock”
Silent, honest, patient rock

I cannot look the river in the eye
           anymore
I cannot find myself in the mirror
 resting on the rock that sits by
the river

One – woman
One – fox
Two strays brought together by
the river

Yet I prefer the rock

Emily DiGiovanni — emily_digiovanni@hotmail.com — lives in New Jersey. Her poems have appeared previously in Identity Theory and will appear in the upcoming Paterson Literary Review. She was a recipent this year of an award from the Academy of American Poets.

 

Editor’s Choice

TIKRIT

A poem by Jeanpaul Ferro

I love the shabbiness of the
boulevards of the Arab world,

That strange sadness that hangs
over the slums in the late evening,

You can sense the urban decay
that is anything but Western,

A hatred of a “them” that is stronger
than a love of “themselves,”

Humiliated little boys caught
between tradition and modernity,

Boys who seek out great towers
that are as tall as they are small,

Like governments that use modernity
to keep their races in place.

Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!
Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!

Amen.

Jeanpaul Ferro — jeanpaulferro@netzero.net — lives in Providence, R.I. His work has appeared in Cortland Review, Portland Monthly, Hawaii Review, Newport Review, The Plaza, Outsider’s Ink, Pedestal Magazine, and Mid-South Review. A Pushcart Prize nominee, he has had his poetry featured on WBAR radio in NYC.

 

THE TEST

A poem by Laine Sutton Johnson

Classroom faces swim through the years
gently, violenly,
without passion or justice,
cold from tides
tossed by currents
fierce as the nearby ocean.

Jellyfish and sharks well-hidden
behind a principal's door,
a teacher's desk or counselor's ear
will bite
devour
consume
for no reason except it's fishing season.

I left teaching before drowning
in depths
that swallowed secrets locked in sunken chests.
Like a coward, I escaped to survive.

Laine Sutton Johnson — Lainma@aol.com — is a New Jersey resident and a teacher of drama and musical theater, performer, playwright and poet. Her work has appeared in the Paterson Literary Review, Paterson: The Poets’ City, the Edison Literary Review, Voices Rising from the Grove, Confluence and Identity Theory.

CRESCENDO OVER THE MOUNTAIN SCENE 3

A poem by AK Taj

an echo meditates through time

craving for the cave’s secret touch

entombed in all the marble and lime

it twists and turns through the whispering maze.



forgotten in the recesses of the grottos

I dance to the fire of your wisdom

like a rolling stone collecting a kernel of dreams

a molten carpet caresses wet skin

seduced by your flaming fortune

     a tantalising tide erupts.

AK Taj (Azadeh Khalilizadeh Tajzadeh) lives in Sydney, Australia and is a poet, freelance writer and editor who has been published in a number of high profile Australian literary magazines and journals, including Hermes and Tangent. Legally qualified, AK Taj is currently an editor and writer for Australia’s national legal news service "Alert 24."

 

CLOUDS AND BLACKHOLES

A poem by Peter Fernbach

Clouds are the outer walls of a sealed fortress
       This is not a simple or a loose creation
Our nurtured womb on a sea of nothing
     See at night at night the hollow expanse
          Our creative back-drop


Dream on stardust . . . . . ..  ..  .
      Where were you when it all began?
And as the sun and clouds return
      Retire to your pillowed nest
                  And make good
                      with your endless
                                 FREEDOM.

Peter Fernbach — PeteFern@aol.com — lives in Willamsville, N.Y. and is a professor of English at Erie Community College. He has been published in the e-zine The View From Below and The Journal of Truth and Consequence.

 

THE BEAST JESUS TAMED

A poem by Charles E. Cote

rode a ’56 Harley, in Southern Ontario,

the chief of an outlaw biker gang.

His hog roared. He preaches now.



“We were extortionists,

drug runners, hard men

with loose women.  My friends

all died before age thirty.

When a guy didn’t have enough cash,

I’d break his skull.  My mother prayed

and that’s why I’m here today.”



The Beast holds up a comic book.

He says it tells his story in a way

the kids will believe.  He travels

town to town and hands out tracks.

He tells us to repent and we do

because he’s the Beast

and Jesus tamed us too.

Charles E. Cote — ccote@rochester.rr.com — lives in Rochester, N.Y. and is a psychotherapist in private practice. He has been published in Blueline, Modern Haiku, Connecticut River Review and HazMat Review.

 

BEAR

A poem by Susan Deer Cloud

At first she didn't know what to do
when she was walking in summer light
towards the Willowemoc,
glanced down,

couldn’t think
what it was, brain
synapses stopped, brief
infinity,
Oh

Bear.

Nor did she even know who she was,
some girl sauntering in summer light
towards Catskill river.

Some Indian girl who had a bear
swaying close to her thighs, not just
any bear but a small happy brown bear,
a half-grown bear, glancing
back up at her,

inviting her to float her
hot glowing summer's hand to bear dance,
stroke fur from earth brown to fire.

So there they were, the two of them,
Bear and Indian girl
sauntering towards a river
with an Indian name whose meaning
had been lost so long ago
no one remembered
when the meaning died.

So there she was, hearing Grandfather tell her,
Never touch wild animals.  Never disrespect
their world by luring them into human tameness,
craziness, through touch, through leaving scent,
through any human words or thought.

Oh, Bear, oh, Bear.



Hard not to stroke such shining
from bear country, the fur, the fur, the eyes,
eyes inviting her, Indian girl

journeying with Bear to the river
with the name that some humans
touched too close once,
strangers forcing Indian girls
into a tamer world.

Nor did she even know who she was.

They walked for a long time towards the river,
she never reached it, she floated on
into the other side of dream,
she was waking up in one more city
empty of bears.

She knew who she was.
She cried.

Susan Deer Cloud — susandeer@gmail.com — is the editor of the poetry anthology Confluences. Her poems ave been published in Sister Nations, Native American Women Writers on Community, Unsettlng America, Ladyfest*East 2004 Anthology, Shenandoah and Identity Theory. She has received a New York State Foundation for the Arts Fellowship.

 

REFLECTION

A poem by Papa Osmubai

The moon in the pond is gone:

the ripples from a dripping dew



(Or perhaps from the quaver

of frog croaks) disturbed it.



Looking up I see it, full, slow,

yellow, among the bright stars.

Papa Osmubai — susanna@macau.ctm.net –writes from Macau, South China. He is completing his MA in English Studies at the University of Macau. His works have been published in GypsyMag, foam:e, Smokebox, Word Riot, Ygdrasil, Chick Flicks, Modern Drunkard Magazine, The Seeker- a Glasgow Literary Review, MadPoetry (Madison Poetry), 63 Channels, and Kookamonga Square.

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