TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 16
poem by April Pameticky, poem Rodney Nelson, poem by Florence Weinberger,
and a book review of Carter McKenzie’s “Stem of Us” by Tom A. Titus
poem by April Pameticky
What Happened After the Lock-Down Drill
We are settling back into our desks when
He asks me What would you do?
My keys still stuck in the door,
the question they all want to know
and maybe they’ve asked other teachers,
or maybe now just seemed like the right time,
but he asks What would you do, Miss?
and even the talkers in the back grow silent to listen.
I look at his sweet face, his earnest eyes,
at the girl behind him,
the one that can’t stop brushing her hair in class,
at the boy to her left, so meticulous
about his clothes and his punctuation,
at all of them in various shades of growing up,
I look at them and wish I could tell them I was going to be a hero,
would stand in front of them
and save them from bullets and crazy classmates,
that I would have the courage to be their shields,
that I wouldn’t cower or bow down
Except that’s not what I signed up for.
I applied for sharpened pencils and pronoun/antecedent agreement,
a smile of triumph at figuring out a difficult analogy,
to empower students with the greatest equalizer of all: words.
I didn’t sign up to die,
a soft-target of a self-indulgent reality-star wannabe,
and maybe I’m not capable of standing firm.
Maybe I would curl up in my closet and shiver and pray
that the shooter would get them first before ever seeing me
to that I could go home to my own kids
and all of these locusts are on fire in my brain
when I’m looking at my students
all staring at me
and expecting that I love them
so I can’t tell them of the bad dreams where I see one of them with a gun,
of the secret plan to raise the window and escape
out the third-story window by the roof-access ladder,
of the golf club I keep so I can break windows and arms,
of the prayer I say every day when I’m not even sure I believe,
So I tell him,
“I will do everything to protect you,”
and it’s not even a lie right then
and they are listening and some have soft smiles
because this can never happen to them, they think.
Because that’s what teachers do:
memorize the multiplication table
and die in the line of duty.
Second only to soldiers in our bravery,
we knew what we were signing up for,
might even get my name on the
Memorial for Fallen Educators,
next to Catherine Tucker,
Victoria Leigh Soto,
Because there is always more room for names.
April Pameticky, mother of two, shares time between her high school English classroom and the burgeoning creative community of artists and writers in Kansas. She facilitated the Wichita Broadside Project 2017 and currently serves as editor of River City Poetry, an online poetry journal. She also co-edits Voices of Kansas, a regional anthology of work from school-aged children across the state. Her own work can be seen in journals like Malpais Review, KONZA, and Chiron Review. Her chapbooks, Sand River and Other Places I’ve Been (Finishing Line Press) and Anatomy of a Sea Star, (Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press) are available upon request.
poem by Rodney Nelson
midwinter sunlight coming up
the narrow avenues made one
beige wall seem storied or antique
all in a seaport
of no cold
and eucalypti in the park
were made to yellow by the faint
same volley as if the light meant
to sign farewell
keep on and on
its sink away not returning
as if to give
tellurians an ending look
at the beauty of what they had
been granted and were too harried
but infinity lacked
a melodramatizing mind
had no intent and would just be
and be again
without a straight flight path in it
Rodney Nelson’s chapbook Directions From Enloe, which was third place for the 2013 Turtle Island Poetry Award was published as part of a full-length collection. The book is The Western Wide (ThrewLine Press). Look at and read about it (and even order) here: http://www.amazon.com/Western-Wide-Rodney-Nelson/dp/0692543309/
poem by Florence Weinberger
Negative Ions Make Me Giddy
This is my house, fog creep and tinted windows,
blue so blue I can be blue if I want to, and why
would I want to when black night ocean is gripped
by squid boat searchlights setting the sea on fire,
and just before dusk, sundown cauterizes the sky.
I’ve become one of those locals struck delirious
by the flash of a fluke, whisp of a blow. Pacing the
dolphins, I’m slow-breathing breathe their kind of grace.
And have you ever seen this much mirth,
cliques of seal-slick surfers drawn to the froth and the myth
of the fish belly’s teeming cave?
What is there about this seascape?
Its bounty should diminish me, but instead splays me,
fingertips in Russia, toes on the Spanish Riviera.
Oh, she is a she, a birth mother who pulled me into her heart
then tossed me onto this shore.
Four times nominated for a Pushcart, Florence Weinberger has published four books of poetry, a fifth, Ghost Tattoo, forthcoming from Tebot Bach. Poems have appeared in journals including Calyx, Rattle, Miramar, River Styx, Ellipsis, Poet Lore, Comstock Review, Nimrod, Cider Press Review, Poetry East, Baltimore Review and numerous anthologies. In 2012, she served as a judge for the PEN Center USA Literary Contest.
Stem of Us by Carter McKenzie
(Flowstone Press, 2018)
Review by Tom A Titus
Stem of Us (Flowstone Press, 2018), Carter McKenzie’s second full-length book of poems, is a poetry of relationship. Her spare verse is gentle then cutting then poignant, but always alive and beautiful. The collection speaks to our overlapping relationships: to self, to beings both human and nonhuman, to place, to justice, and to spirit. These interrelationships are embodied even in the cover, an artistic rendering of the first flower as inferred by evolutionary biologists, the stem species of the tree of all flowering plants, our fellow beings who gift us with air to breathe, food for sustenance, and beauty that makes us sing.
The book unfolds in five sections: Stem of Words, Stem of Silence, Stem of Nests, Stem of Belongings, and Stem of Prayer.
Stem of Words establishes the fundamental and growing relationship of words to the larger world. “Gift in Childhood” explores the emergence of words from Earth herself: “what had been drawn from earth/and roots and water, the river/rushing against stones.” Words take root in childhood, then expand in space and time, as in “Before Nightfall”: “when I was a child, trees/I cannot see but know/are gold in broad daylight/in the autumn, like it is now.” This growth of words also produces complexity. Words transport beauty in the world, but carry with them tragic elements of loss and shame. In “Christmas, 1962”: “an accident, a sudden/goodnight kiss/from her and she is brushed aside/but no/word for it yet and she removed, and folded up/inside her chest/little bird of shame/gone somewhere to learn a lesson”
Stem of Silence gives unflinching voice and imagery to the flow of contradiction in our lives. Poems such as “Mike”, “Unspoken”, and “The Coffin of Emmett Till” are witness to the unspoken, subtle, and sometimes murderous hydra of racism. “In the Midst of Place, Thoughts on Juneteenth” contrasts natural beauty (“of rain, evidence of light beaded at the tips, fanning out, layers of skirts”) with intergenerational control of natural systems and human slaves that produced shelter, water, and food, eventually leading to our current place in the world (“here by way of others’ plans making possible my own, and this/home goes back/a long way, to other forests along a different coastline,/a different name”). In “To You Who Found My Brother” and “Traveling”, the poet gives birth to the conjoined twins of gratitude and grief. All of these paradoxes are embraced and brought together in ways that create space within which the reader must find their own resolution.
Stem of Nests begins with a poetry of nurturing. These carry within them a seasonal restiveness and ultimately embrace the pain of loss. In “Demeter in November” the speaker’s child grows and is gone. “November Return” imagines a pregnant bear who eats and retreats to “shadow upon shadow/without an individual name,/hiding places”. Poems of nurturing are countered with the wounding of our detachment: a stoic but starving model for Degas’ Woman at the Window (“Subject Matter”), poisoning of a Coast Range community by herbicide spray (“Volatilization in Cedar Valley”), and the destruction of a beloved butte by gravel mining (“Parvin Butte”). The poetry confronts us with human complexity: how are we capable of humane nurturing and the inhumanity of detachment?
Poems in Stem of Belongings embrace the plurality of belonging as both verb and noun. “Ekphrasis” is a melding of sights with sounds: “blue hum and chirr/of insects, their nearly/invisible wings, glints/stirring above the water.” The poet engages the dying: a dog, a friend, a homeless rose vendor, knowing that while she is unable to physically hold those who must leave, she will carry their unique gifts into the future.
Stem of Prayers contains the language of transcendence, not as a reflection of Nature that brings the observer to some higher reality, but in the fundamental alliance of the speaker with the natural world. This is a poetry of witness to other beings that include trees: “praise to the green/turn of the boughs/the wrists and hands” (“poem in the dark”), a deer with “her dark eyes,/white rimmed, the white/patch of her throat/fully seeing” (“The Possible Stories of Trees”), a personified seed jar in which “I recall patience/through winter,/through wind,/through the rains” (“Stories of the Black Ware Seed Jar”). This shared being-ness becomes the portal to wonder and mystery.
Although these five stems appear as separate branches in the book, they are stitched together by the earthbound imagery of Place, the lignin that supports and draws together the interconnected cells of our lives. Stem of Us grows into a bidirectional conduit of words that moves water and nutrients from the roots of Place upward and outward into sunlit leaves. Poems materialize, and like the sugars produced by photosynthesis, the poetry is food that nourishes and ultimately anchors our existence.
Carter McKenzie’s work has appeared in journals and anthologies, including What the River Brings: Oregon River Poems, Canary, Sisyphus, Turtle Island Quarterly, The Berkeley Poets Cooperative: A History of the Times, and the poetry anthology Of Course, I’m a Feminist! She lives in a small community in Western Oregon’s Middle Fork Willamette watershed region. Carter is an active member of the Springfield-Eugene Chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice). Stem of Us is her second full-length book of poetry.
Tom A. Titus owes his existence in this wet green crease of the Pacific Northwest to three generations of ancestors living in the Oregon Coast Range. His taste for food gathering and far-flung places led to a B.A. in biology at Western Oregon University, followed by a Ph.D. in evolutionary genetics at the University of Kansas. Tom returned to Oregon, where he entertains his left brain as a research biologist and instructor at the University of Oregon. He amuses his right brain as a writer, runner, gardener, husband, father, grandfather, and seeker of wild things and the wise quiet spaces where they are found. His locally popular book Blackberries in July: A Forager’s Field Guide to Inner Peace is a seasonal chronology of the hunting and gathering of his spirit and a reunion with the land and intergenerational tradition