Turtle Island Quarterly 6
Pepper Trail (3 poems), Erick Mertz (1 poem), Scott Starbuck (1 poem), Joan Colby (1 poem)
THREE POEMS BY PEPPER TRAIL
-- for Peter Matthiessen
In this moment of windfall are all other moments.
The brittle winter sleep, the itch of the bud beneath the bark,
the unspeakable release of the opening flower,
the bee’s fumbling embraces, the petals’ fall and
the thousands of leaves at work in the sun.
All beings are travelers. From the Altai,
center of the world, the apple has journeyed,
taken root, taken many forms, been made
and remade to every taste, remaining always
itself, of its own nature, fleshy, pungent, good.
Through the long summer, the ripening. Do not
think of one apple, but all apples, on all the trees
everywhere, Friesia and Long Island, Japan, New
Zealand, the highlands of Kenya, and the lowlands
of Nepal. Everything happening, always.
There is harvest. There are hands tugging, teeth
taking bites, the packing, the shipping, the selling.
There is also freedom from harvest, the fall
into the long grass. Slowly, the skin creases,
the flesh fails, all is prepared. Another rebirth.
The Swamp Woods
In the swamp woods, it was different.
Sticky but not sweet, no sugar maples here,
just spicebush and ash, and between them
pools of clear brown water filled in spring
with clouds of frogspawn, and newts floating
spread-eagled on the surface taking
occasional suspicious gulps of air.
I would come here in certain moods, marked
with wounds invisible to my mother’s eyes,
but bleeding from my heart down my legs
to soak my shoes as I pushed through the ferns,
was whipped by the osiers, took revenge
upon mosquitoes, traded blood for blood,
went deep as if I was pursued.
Far inside was a low mound, mossy, strange,
free of trees, the sky a circle above, where
I could speak without being heard, see
without being seen. My return home led
through different woods, oaks and
pine, each pace rehearsing the answers
I would need: Nowhere and Nothing.
So much is understood
As, for example, the iridescence
It has all been worked out
The melanins and the carotenoids
How the proteins must be spaced and stacked
Set within each feather’s frame
To flash ruby gold, then with a twist
How marvelous these mechanisms at first
But then, the poverty of explanation!
How tedious, really, to part the curtain
Reveal the worn ropes and pulleys of life
Straining at their accustomed work
Young, I loved the play of hypothesis and test
Acquired facts, for years learned them, line by line
Now, I find more pleasure in departing from the text
Walking, dazzled, into broken light
Pepper Trail has a Ph.D. in biology from Cornell University, and works as an ornithologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
His environmental essays appear regularly in High Country News and other publications, and he is the author of
Shifting Patterns: Meditations on the Meaning of Climate Change in Oregon’s Rogue Valley, a collection of essays, poems, and photographs (www.shiftingpatterns.org ). His poems have been published in Atlanta Review, Cascadia Review, Comstock Review, Spillway, Windfall, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for our 2013 Turtle Island Poetry Award. He lives in Ashland, Oregon.
POEM BY ERICK MERTZ
WHITE OAK II
Axe drops to gravel bed
beside the maul.
Sound of metal on metal resonates.
Scent of split, white oak
dances while on the moist, August haze.
Pull glove off slowly.
Patch of work worn flesh revealed at thumb crook,
bare skin, torn
away from blood soaked leather.
My eyes close, thrilling with sting of sweat –
held away from my body, air forcing swoon.
Until you rush through the garden gate, wreath half finished at your back.
Your cool breath falls to fresh wound,
willing lips traced crimson
as you whisper one tiny assurance after another.
Concessions made to your mouth’s gesture – I have surrendered
one hundred times, perhaps more.
This moment feels different though.
When a man recognizes he is worthy of healing
then he may gradually give himself over to real love.
Over the years, Erick Mertz 's work has appeared in numerous publications, from Stringtown to Fireweed: Poetry of Western Oregon to Ink Pot Press to The Vermillion Literary Project. He has placed work in La Palabra Café’s The Cereal Vox project and in a recent issue of Pedestal magazine. His work has also garnered a 2004 Kay Snow Award for poetry from the Willamette Writer’s organization. Forthcoming is a chap book, entitled Semi-Urban Cartography, from Semi-Urban Press and an untitled novel about social work. Short film projects, Old Tom and Closing Time, are ready to embark on their round through the festival circuit.
POEM BY SCOTT STARBUCK
Drifting Out of My Body in the Dark
Somewhere Near Astoria, Oregon
Reds and yellows ghost the river bridge
as stars fade and I slowly cast, waiting for a strike.
Under ancient Sitka spruce
a headlamp shows my boots in a net
and this reminds me of the boot owner’s
tiny human gill slits
in the womb when all of these salmon
were his brothers and sisters.
When he eats them, they become him
and, like their river fire, his striving
at any cost
to get back home.
A 2013 Artsmith Fellow on Orcas Island, Scott T. Starbuck feels destruction of Earth's ecosystems is closely related to spiritual illness and widespread urban destruction of human consciousness. He says The National Poetry Series accepting support from Exxon is like God asking Satan if he can spare some change for the cause. Starbuck's newest chapbook The Other History, or unreported and underreported issues, scenes, and events of the 19th, 20th, and 21 centuries was published by FutureCycle Press in 2013, and he recently guest blogged about eco-poetry at South 85 Literary Journal Blog and poet Miriam Sagan's blog Miriam's Well: Poetry, Land Art, and Beyond Starbuck blogs about environmental issues, fishing, and poetry in the Pacific Northwest at riverseek.blogspot.com
POEM BY JOAN COLBY
We’re happy to end our issue with ARE YOU HAPPY.
Joan’s chapbook PRO FORMA was the runner-up for the 2014 Turtle Island Poetry Award
and was chosen for the 2014 Turtle Island Quarterly’s Editor’s Choice Award.
It will be published by FootHills Publishing in 2014.
ARE YOU HAPPY
He wrote pursuit, knowing
It can be the chase that counts.
The wolf pack bringing down the old elk,
Gorging; they must be happy
Or at least fulfilled. To be happy
Is conjecture; contentment suffices for most
Though it can hobble the way a horse
In a field of fine clover
Doesn’t struggle against its thongs.
Happiness, my father said, involved accomplishment.
The sort of striving Jefferson must
Have had in mind as he deliberated before
Adding the amplifying noun.
Walking into a July morning,
The air full of birdcalls, one perched
On the rim of the birdbath shaking its feathers,
In the distance a dog barking
And everywhere the blossoms opening,
And as I pause a moment, sunlight
In my hair, on my body, warming the day,
For that instant, that perishing instant,
I am happy.
Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner.. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She was a finalist in the GSU Poetry Contest (2007), Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize (2009, 2012), and received honorable mentions in the North American Review's James Hearst Poetry Contest (2008, 2010).One of her poems is a winner of the 2014 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. She is the editor of Illinois Racing News,and lives on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She has published 14 books including Selected Poems” from FutureCycle Press .”Selected Poems” received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize. “Properties of Matter” ,Aldrich Press (Kelsay Books).; “Bittersweet” (Main Street Rag Press) and The Wingback Chair, FutureCycle Press.” Colby is also an associate editor of Kentucky Review and FutureCycle Press.