TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 16
2 poems by Kirtland Snyder, poem by Janet McCann,
poem by Pepper Trail, poem by Paul Willis, and a poem by Martin Willitts Jr
2 poems by Kirtland Snyder
CONFUSION OF INFLUENCES
Here in our new home we must be
On a flyway, judging from the herds
Of birds making the trek to Florida,
East Texas by way of our backyard.
Today, a mild day in mid-October,
I sat in early sun and read Selected
Poems of James Tate instead
Of earning a living but what the hell.
Because it was a mild day my
Thoughts were also on the Bronk book
By that name in which it is written:
“It’s time to move bemused in the mild day.”
Bemused is about as good as it gets
I was thinking when all at once
A dark cloud accompanied by a dark
Beating of wings scudded above me,
Caught in the tops of lindens, aspens,
Arbor vitae, apple trees, white pines,
While some flew down to lawn
To have a go at worms and grubs.
They made a terrible racket against which
The poems were no contest so I listened
Instead to their voices which grated on me,
Shocked me, really, they were so
Harsh and loud and irritable. And then
I knew without doubt they were grackles,
Knowing the poem “The Voice
Of the Grackle” in which Marge Piercy
Describes a rasp, a screech, a creaking,
A cracking voice making off-color comments.
Just to be certain, to get the scientific proof,
I grabbed my Audubon Handbook and sure
Enough, grackles they were, black and shiny
In their cheap suits, their most common call,
It said, a clack.
THE SQUIRREL SUICIDES
You know summer’s over when squirrels
Begin throwing themselves
Under the wheels of passing cars.
You see them all along the roads,
Flattened and bloodied, skulls crushed,
Plumed tails scraped into gray pavement,
Or lying on their backs, their tiny paws
Clawing the sky, rigor mortis twisting
Their snouts into un-squirrel-like grimaces.
Some seem to do it for the sport—
Testing their speed and timing by darting
Through the briefest of intervals.
Others seem to be testing us—
Who has heart enough to hit the brakes
As they scurry across?
Maybe they’ve simply had enough
Of this nutty world, and fall appears to be their last
Best hope for self-immolation.
Watch out! There’s one now, a gray pelt on hind legs
In the pale grass by the edge of the lane,
Daring you to slow down and give way—or else.
Kirtland Snyder has published 3 chapbooks, won the Stanley Kunitz Award for Excellence in Poetry, been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and had the distinct pleasure and honor of reading with Galway Kinnell at the University of Massachusetts some years ago. His Holocaust poetry is among the work of American and British poets examined in Professor Susan Gubar’s book, Poetry After Auschwitz (Indiana University Press, 2003). He has also published in Ms., Midstream, Stuff (The Boston Phoenix), Exquisite Corpse, notus/new writing, Modern Haiku, Longhouse, Poet Lore, The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, The Café Review, Shirim, The Adirondack Review, Flumes, New Works Review, Sanctuary, The Hartford Courant, Paramour, aspen leaves, The Boston Monthly, The Ardis Anthology of New American Poetry, Blood To Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, and Veils, Halos and Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women.
Poem by Janet McCann
SLEEPING IN A COLD ROOM
amid blankets and dozy dogs
griefs fade the politics blank
air fills with invisible snow
body sinks into the bed
exhales the day and all its threats and burdens
cold air replaces passion
moon shines in on humped up pillows
sounds of triple breaths
the white darkness almost solid
she will wake at dawn
with a cold nose
a clear head
inhabiting herself again
Journals publishing Janet McCann’s work include KANSAS QUARTERLY, PARNASSUS, NIMROD, SOU'WESTER, AMERICA, CHRISTIAN CENTURY, CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE, NEW YORK QUARTERLY, TENDRIL, and others. A 1989 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship winner, she taught at Texas A & M University from 1969-2016, is now Professor Emerita. She has co-edited anthologies with David Craig, ODD ANGLES OF HEAVEN (Shaw, 1994), PLACE OF PASSAGE (Story Line, 2000), and POEMS OF FRANCIS AND CLARE (St. Anthony Messenger, 2004). Most recent poetry collection: THE CRONE AT THE CASINO (Lamar University Press, 2014).
poem by Pepper Trail
The Trout Quintet Beside the River
Alone in the forest, on a bluff above the river
October – gray sky, maples red and orange
beneath the green black conifers
all silent but for the constant river
the scolding jay, the occasional raven
I thought of Schubert, his Trout Quintet, its perfection –
and there it was, in my pocket, on my phone
and so I set it free, and it flowed around me
like water around a stone, this conversation
joining the others, the cello and the raven
the strings and the wind in the bright leaves
the piano and the river
and I thought of my life
began to make metaphors of everything
the autumn leaves my dwindling days
the beloved birds my uncaptured words
the bluff the moraine of memory, leaning into collapse
the river time itself, ceaseless, beautiful, indifferent
but then a rippling run of the piano pulled me back
carried these banalities away around the downstream bend
returned me to this earthen seat
my head full only of music
seeing nothing but the beauty before my eyes
Pepper Trail's poems have appeared in Rattle, Atlanta Review, Spillway, Borderlands, Ascent and other publications, and have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net Awards. His collection, Cascade-Siskiyou: Poems, was a finalist for the 2016 Oregon Book Award in Poetry. He lives in Ashland, Oregon, where he works as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
poem by Paul Willis
Morning wind in the live oak trees,
moving them in bosomy ways,
one part pulsing, then another.
The breeze blows in
from Cold Spring Saddle,
thence from north of Point Conception,
the open sea, gathering freshness
from whales, olives, ceanothus,
billowing the breasted branches,
scattering the hooked green acorns,
planting them with warm, full breaths,
with little sighs.
Paul Willis’s recent collection, Deer at Twilight: Poems from the North Cascades (Stephen F. Austin State University Press), was a finalist in this year's book awards at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Forthcoming in 2019 from White Violet Press is Little Rhymes for Lowly Plants. Individual poems have appeared in Poetry, Ascent, and Los Angeles Review.
poem by Martin Willitts Jr
The Grasshopper’s Song
A grasshopper was bringing music,
but I wasn’t listening.
Instead, I heard the lament of someone
in anguish, almost begging to be understood,
insisting, You never loved me. It chirruped,
Love is such an antique desire.
This is the one song the grasshopper wanted to tell,
to fill to overflowing, but also, it wanted me to empty.
Since I had ignored both messages, the grasshopper
whizzed around me, scolding, Listen, listen, listen!
Light was snapping, so I listened
to that exquisite green music.
The song was like smashing pots,
but also like mending them.
I had to know and understand the difference.
I had to listen closely if I ever expected to learn.
The earth and sky were bearing down on me
all the time, and I never noticed. I wasn’t hearing
what they were singing.
They were chanting, Love me, Love me.
Martin Willitts Jr has 24 chapbooks including the winner of the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, “The Wire Fence Holding Back the World” (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 11 full-length collections including “The Uncertain Lover” (Dos Madres Press, 2018) and “Home Coming Celebration” (FutureCycle Press, 2019). He is an editor for Comstock Review.