TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 18
Peter Grandbois, Sara Backer, Paul Jones, Barbara Daniels,
Sam Barbee, Al Ortolani, Martin Willitts Jr., William Cullen Jr.,
Michael Spring, Jonah Bornstein, John Davis, John L. Stanizzi
poem by Peter Grandbois
When I was alive
I swam the waters of the Cherry Creek,
a catfish trailing a pack of boys armed
with bows and arrows, invisible dusk
descending with the birds and their shadows.
When the first arrow hit, they surrounded
me, too stunned to speak, watching my mouth
open and close, the only answer to fire
silence upon silence into my shining body.
Then there was the time I was a trout
racing down the Platte until a rock
hit me in the back. I watched from the shore
with glassy eyes, morning steam rising
off the river like the voices of the boys
as they argued over who would make
the final blow, as if a stone to the head
could end this unbearable longing.
I suppose it’s death I’m talking about.
How our handsewn ghost is always moving
among the haunted, the way last night
I was an injured bird in my friend’s backyard,
or how the week before my six legs tried
to scuttle off the Black Cat beneath me,
its fuse counting the seconds until I
was blown across the Colorado field.
How do we open to all we’ve seen,
all we’re told to see, to the tortured hand
of every word we tried to write,
to the catfish head whacked against the rock.
The days are more than we are. We’ll never
understand what time makes of us, or when
it’s time to drop the oars, let the boat drift,
to be born again beneath a liquid sky.
Peter Grandbois is the author of ten books, the most recent of which is half-burnt (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in over one hundred journals. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is the Poetry Editor for Boulevard magazine and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. You can find him at www.petergrandbois.com.
poem by Sara Backer
When We Look into the Lake
for David Robertson
We start to see faces
as bubbles turn into eyes.
The first face is always a blue wolf.
Other faces surface as if invited
to a seance—owl, otter, crow.
Humans, too, appear
with mushroom-colored skin.
Some wear hats or masks.
Near the edge of a rock, the water
reveals a portrait
of a wary Wa She Shu elder.
The faces seem to tell us the same thing:
Da ow meaning lake.
Da ow meaning dao.
Da ow meaning meaning.
The longer we look into da ow,
the more likely the great bear may come
down from mountains cloaked with ghosts.
Sara Backer's first chapbook, Bicycle Lotus, won our 2015 Turtle Island Poetry Award. A subsequent chapbook, Scavenger Hunt, came out from dancing girl press (2018). Her first full-length book,Such Luck, is out from Flowstone Press (2019). She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in the Merrimack River watershed with gray cats, white pines, red oaks, and black bears. Website: sarabacker.com.
Such Luck, poetry book by Sara Backer
poem by Paul Jones
poem by Paul Jones
Early Fall New Moon
Early Fall New Moon
When I'm dreaming like this,
it's as if I woke up sober
and don't deserve to be.
Like I woke up to gentle rain
or a slow waterfall
after a long dry September.
Gone are the little pains.
In their place, just one ecstasy,
one immense pile of leaves
where children hide most of themselves.
They are hooting like trains
imagining I can't see them.
I act as if I don't.
I have already left that life.
But where is the new one?
The black cloud on the Black Mountain
will, in time, be the home
to trout. From rainbow to rainbow,
a path we all will know.
Paul Jones has published poetry in many journals, including Poetry, Georgia Review, Southern Review, and North Carolina Literary Review, but also in cookbooks, travel anthologies, in a collection about passion (What Matters?), in a collection about love (…and love…), and in The Best American Erotic Poems: 1800 – Present (from Scribner). Recently, he was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and two Best of the Web Award. His chapbook, What the Welsh and Chinese Have in Common, was a North Carolina Writers’ Network award winner.
A manuscript of his poems landed on the moon’s surface April 11, 2019 as part of Arch Mission’s Lunar Library delivered by SpaceIL’s Beresheet lander.
Jones is the director of ibiblio.org, a contributor-run, digital library of public domain and creative commons media begun over 25 years ago. He is also Clinical Professor in the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina.
poem by Barbara Daniels
When I broke this finger
it healed wrong. It points
at me, reproachful. I confess
invention, not belief,
chose night with its beaks
and stingers. I’m like the dog
in the corner of every
old photograph, smelly,
panting, gasping for breath.
Scabs I peel from my arms
and hands lift to rawness
beneath slipped skin.
What do I look for in tumbled
grass? Deer bend their diffident
heads. I smell burning.
I should have been a nurse
touching the dying, washing
their hair as they lie on their
narrow beds, or a bird,
forked syrinx for my
mourning, my cry all vowel,
all retrospection. I watch
the moon rise over the city.
Sorrow does its usual work.
But I find the dipper
that scoops the sky—there
in a silver spume of stars.
Barbara Daniels’ book Rose Fever was published by WordTech Press. Talk to the Lioness is forthcoming from Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press. Daniels’ poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, and other journals. She received three fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
poem by Sam Barbee
August afternoon’s final innings. We chatter
around the diamond. Heckle every hitter.
In center field, soft with bermuda grass,
I bounce barefooted, interrupting robins
Without bristle or thorn,
clover fills the green gaps, white buds
bobbing in humid traces before today’s
I track a fly-ball
across crimson sun.
A dull sting tightens my arch,
and I collapse among yellow-jackets.
the shiny thorax with my glove,
but the stinger remains –
transfusing venom – twitching in my right arch.
Its last work a dance.
I gather the team.
All fascinated to watch it quiver until
I flick it out into forgiving turf, into sparkling
clover’s downy sequins.
Under glorious heaven
I accept pain, sensing we must play on
for our place in the game.
Night-wind swells boughs and bats swarm.
Sam Barbee poems have appeared Poetry South, The NC Literary Review, Crucible, Asheville Poetry Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology VII: North Carolina, Georgia Journal, Kakalak, and Pembroke Magazine, among others; plus on-line journals Vox Poetica, Sky Island Journal, Courtland Review and The Blue Hour. His second poetry collection, That Rain We Needed (2016, Press 53), was a nominee for the Roanoke-Chowan Award as one of North Carolina’s best poetry collections of 2016. He was awarded an "Emerging Artist's Grant" from the Winston-Salem Arts Council to publish his first collection Changes of Venue (Mount Olive Press); has been a featured poet on the North Carolina Public Radio Station WFDD; received the 59th Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society for his poem "The Blood Watch"; and is a Pushcart nominee.
poem by Al Ortolani
There is a loneliness
in the singularity of falling
leaves at dusk,
the silhouettes of limbs,
the slant of rooftops,
the empty lawns. We turn
up the path towards home
to click all the electricity
we can into the lights.
Behind doors, we ladle
the warmth of supper
onto cold plates. We find
in the window's glass
our reflections, strangers
with familiar faces,
setting forks and spoons
in their places, always,
it seems, preparing.
Al Ortolani is the Manuscript Editor for Woodley Press in Topeka, Kansas, and has directed a memoir writing project for Vietnam veterans across Kansas in association with the Library of Congress and Humanities Kansas. He is a 2019 recipient of the Rattle Chapbook Series Award. After 43 years of teaching English in public schools, he currently lives a life without bells and fire drills in the Kansas City area.
poem by Martin Willitts Jr
Blue-Winged Darter (Dragonfly)
(Pachydiplax Longipennis) common in America
There was a time he wasn’t,
when all he had to do
was float as a larva
about to be named, making
music from one
quicksilver stage to another,
a poem being edited.
out of clear, motionless water
onto the grey pier, emerging
like a snake,
shredding his papery skin.
He was a line being re-written.
He was not all he could be,
about to enter the next dream.
Soon, he’d skim-skirt
a shear wetland surface,
with metallic bluish-white wings,
zipping a singular, repeating,
this shimmering hum,
as soft as the shell he left behind,
a transient, from place
to contemplative place to exit,
to a stronger poetic finish.
I have been to the place
where life emerges
and darkness devours, and naming
Martin Willitts Jr has 24 chapbooks including our Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, “The Wire Fence Holding Back the World” (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 16 full-length collections including the Blue Light Award 2019 winner “The Temporary World”. His recent book is "Unfolding Towards Love" (Wipf and Stock). He is an editor for the Comstock Review.
haiku sequence by William Cullen Jr.
One Rural Summer
alternating with wind chimes
a faint radio
the silence moves along
with the rainbow float
empty baseball field
a squirrel under the bleachers
town square graveyard
the fireflies illumine
William Cullen Jr. is a veteran and was born in Petersburg, Virginia. He lived in Alabama, Georgia and Germany before settling down in Brooklyn, New York, where he works at a social services non-profit. His work has appeared in Canary, Gulf Stream, Lake Effect, I-70 Review, Poetry South, Spillway and The American Journal of Poetry.
poem by Michael Spring
this time the raccoon
this time the raccoon
keeps me from going inside for the night
because in the last light of day
I watch it emerge from a tree
the darkness changes it
into a bear
then into something amorphous --
a beak emeges, a wing unfolds --
what was once a raccoon flies
and suddenly I become the raccoon
clutching an oak
I'm now looking at a man opening
his arms like wings --
his head cracks open for a tree
branching into the sky's darkening inks
Michael Spring, of Southwest Oregon, is the author of four previous poetry books and one children’s book. He’s won numerous awards and distinctions for poetry, including our Turtle Island Poetry Award, and an honorable mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award. Michael was a recipient of a Luso-American Fellowship from DISQUIET International and served as a writer-in-residence for Fishtrap,Inc. In 2019 he was named Poet Laureate of Southern Oregon by The Southern Oregon Guild. Michael Spring is a martial art instructor, a poetry editor for The Pedestal Magazine, and founding editor of Flowstone Press. His new chapbook, Drift Line, will be published by Foothills Publishing in 2020.
poem by Jonah Bornstein
Raven Flight at the Grand Canyon
I know the lust of hang-gliders to loop upward
in the grace of ravens, forming fissures in air
as if they, too, were custodians of space.
I watch them drift across the desert,
hands clenched to the reins
of taut wings, their bodies clamped to saddles;
I remember seeing
one of these creatures
dangling like a struck bird from electrical wires
above the coast highway—no formula of wellness
would return him, the bent grille
of his body haunting
me for years after. Now relaxed
in a warm motel room below the canyon,
its buffeting wind unlocked from my body
by a hot shower, I wonder whether the woman
who spoke, truly did see a tagged condor,
the exposed pink guts
of its head a splotch of luminescence
against the ragged streaks of light
shifting on canyon walls, or a moose
in Oak Creek Canyon, the trolley
of her imagination unfolding at the rim
smiling, glorious in her tellings, rose
madder dyeing the pale skin
under her eyes. It is enough, I wanted to say, to see
the particulars of where we are—
the clipped dust of deer tracks, to hear the thump of wings,
and watch a brace of ravens coil
up from the canyon’s lips, making visible
channels of air unfelt from our perch on the rim.
But I, too, have created canyon stars
out of a scattering of desert datura; and I question,
even, the hang glider forty years ago—wonder
if my parents diverted my gaze away from the snared man
to the cable of knotted cars, afraid
of death hovering above us, or that I had not
seen at all, that my young mind opened a fissure
to move the uneasy flight
of man toward earth where I could see
its consequence, and know that daring
brings death close—that my story now
is to climb the pole, lasso the impervious hum
of wires that crowds our bodies
with a language we cannot understand.
Jonah Bornstein has taught poetry and creative writing at several universities in New York City, Oregon, and now University of Denver. I co-founded and was director of the Ashland Writers Conference (1997-2002) and director of the International Writers Series at Southern Oregon University. Poetry collections include Mortar; The Art of Waking; Treatise on Emptiness; A Path Through Stone; and We Are Built of Light. Poems have been published in journals such as Prairie Schooner, One Fare, ie, The West Wind Review and many anthologies, including September 11, 2001, American Writers Respond; Deer Drink the Moon: Poems of Oregon; and Walking Bridges: Using Poetry as a Compass. In addition to teaching creative writing, I mentors poets and edit poetry manuscripts
poem by John Davis
The calf. The moose cow. The lake. I’m in the tent and need to pee. Through the mesh screen I see the cow in the lake splay her forelegs. Feeds on plants. The tent flap. The tent zipper. She hears the zipper. She stomps out of the water. I’m in the tent, underwear and boots and need to pee. She stomps. I walk. I run. I can’t run in hiking boots but I run and know the kick of a moose can kill. The stories are flashing back: a moose can kick a corpse for half an hour. Learned the story on my honeymoon. Today: my anniversary. My wife away, working and I run. The cow trots. Fast. Faster. Around pines. Through brush. We scare up a bull moose who brays at the cow. The pines. The wind. The need to pee. She brays. Two moose. Me. I run. No time to breathe or pee. Underwear and boots. Pee dribbles down my leg. The toy stuffed moose that slept against my pillow. The tufted fur. I nosed the nose before I slept. My boyhood book: Dr. Seuss, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. I run. Trot. Walk along the muddy path. No more moose. Slow. Slow walk.
I see my breath—a cloud beyond the lake. No moose under bars of morning light. I pass berry bushes I cannot name. Then another moose cow charges. I dive into bushes. She trots past me. The bell—that flap of skin under her throat—bounces. I see myself a flap of skin. Bounced. Kicked. To the pines. To the lake. Kicked. No time to breathe. My legs are her legs, her breaths, my breaths. My shirt is her skin. The minutes before these minutes. My wife. The lake. The calf. The need to pee. I run three miles to my car. No moose. No wallet. Spare key under the hood. No need to pee. Collapse behind the wheel. Trail workers arrive. Laugh. Bray like moose. Bray louder. I will not follow them up the path. But no wallet. No pack. No sleeping bag. I follow them. A worker says I carry a chainsaw. If a moose comes at me, I’ll cut its legs off. He brays. The trail. The chainsaw. The lake. Lake Darling.
John Davis is the author of two collections, Gigs (Sol Books) and a chapbook The Reservist (Pudding House). His work has appeared recently in DMQ Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, One and Rio Grande Review. A retired high school teacher of forty years, he moonlights in blues and rock and roll bands.
poem and photo by John L. Stanizzi
Pallet of the pond where reflections seem to reach deep.
Overage of reflections, the entire shoreline touches the depths.
Negate the water for the more profound image on the landscape
differentiated from actual land by the slightest ripple running off to nowhere
John L. Stanizzi is author of the collections – Ecstasy AmongGhosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!,High Tide – Ebb Tide, Four Bits, Chants, and his newest collection, Sundowning, just out with Main Street Rag. John’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Life in Poetry, The New York Quarterly, Paterson Literary Review, Blue Mountain Review, TheCortland Review, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Rust & Moth, Connecticut RiverReview, Hawk & Handsaw, and many others. His creative non-fictionhas been featured in Stone Coast Review. His work has been translated into Italian and appeared in many journals in Italy. His translator is Angela D’Ambra. John has read and venues all over New England, including the Mystic Arts Café, the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, Hartford Stage, andmany others. For many years, John coordinated the Fresh Voices Poetry Competition for Young Poets at Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CT. He isalso a teaching artist for the national recitation contest, Poetry Out Loud. A former New England Poet of the Year, John teaches literature at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT and he lives with his wife,Carol, in Coventry.