TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 10
2 poems by Sara Clancy, 2 poems by James Dott,
poem by Al Ortolani, poem by Matthew Dobson
2 poems by Sara Clancy
Joan Sutherland at Casa de la Luz Hospice
On your last day I played opera at your bedside.
A soprano to glide past the imperative I wished to avoid,
each bend of perfect sound a disappearing spiral of the craft
that fed you. Your nurse said you might hear underneath
the harmonics of your morphine drip and I wish now
I had also played you a folk song. A mountain dulcimer
to blend our split aesthetic and charm the institutional hush.
I want each lyric to be the ballad of your life, each note a trio
of 12-string guitars that rings, even now, through the dim lit
mauve of your room and into the parking lot where a girl
sings Someday Soon from a passing jeep. Where I wear
your death like a bright chord of Arizona sky.
- for Rebecca
My daughter sings in the primary colors
of her name. Paints with the hum of lightning
bugs on a Pennsylvania night. Calls me in blooming
citrus and cinnabar red.
She fixes each calendar page to its visual
continuum and fastens the day to the horizon
for safe keeping, sure as the equation
is azalea pink every single time.
She warns me when a voice on the air
smells rancid, when water sings a bruise
on the skin, when the sum of numbers
does not equal its counterpart
in the garden of the spoken sky.
Sara Clancy a Philadelphia transplant to the Desert Southwest. She is an Associate Editor for Poetry at Kentucky Review and, among other places, her poems have appeared in The Linnet's Wings, Crab Creek Review, The Madison Review, Verse Wisconsin, Main Street Rag, Antiphon and Houseboat, where she was a featured poet.
2 poems by James Dott
we are grasped by what we cannot grasp
I go out walking beyond the gate at the end of the street, the early sun is gone,
and now a light rain falls. I go walking, neither toward nor away, not spinning in place,
but out, unraveling the tangle, looking for what’s come up, begun to flower, ripen, sometimes
Off the path like Thoreau, through orchards, meadows, quick-paced
to sweat out the maladies of civilization, or slowly like Darwin, round and round
his ‘sand walk’ to contemplate and coalesce his thoughts: earthworms, evolution,
Or like Dickens treading miles and miles through his good old city, up lanes,
down alleys, past shop fronts, picking up faces, names,
striding out the story, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times,”
The siren keens: someone’s dying, something’s burning, everything is broken,
everyone’s in pain. Why are you just walking?
Young blackberry canes, new spruce shoots, leafing alder crowd the trail. The salmon berries
are plump, first a hint of sweetness then the acid bite at the back of the tongue.
Each new terror is repeated and replayed until the next arrives.
After the explosion, the fire, the search, the rubble that was their home, that is their grave,
the three-year-old beaten then drowned in a toilet. How can you turn your back and walk away?
How can I stay and stare? I’ll make each walk a pilgrimage, each step a prayer.
find a garden to ramble through like Rilke at Duino Castle. Perhaps there is
a paradise to reach before legs grow weary, weak, before all hope is tossed away.
Rilke walking on the cliff path would have peered down the white limestone walls
to an eroded pillar, a veiled woman at the water line of the bay below, ‘The White Lady’
of legend, turned to stone to save her from the rocks her wrathful husband hurled her toward.
Nights, some have seen her on the castle stairs, in the gardens seeking her children.
The reporter said the shooter scratched the name of each target in a cartridge, that each slug
hit its intended, punctured flesh, shattered bone. I know for some the garden gate has been
slammed shut, no one to come out to them, no hint, no hope, or even want of love, I know.
Remember that drone that bombed a wedding party in Yemen, all killed? There were eyes
peering at the screen, assumptions solidified, orders in the ear, a hand on the joystick.
What do we call this game: Regrettable Error, Collateral Damage, Necessary Costs of War?
“Who, if I cried out would hear me?” Who, if I did not, would notice or care?
Would you condemn me like some have Rilke, his silence deemed: Denial, Cowardice?
Auden said Rilke refused to understand war, how it spills out until its stench soaks everything.
To understand meant to accept its inevitability, if not necessity, to this he said, “No.”
Wouldn’t you kill to protect family, home, country, the goods you’ve built your comfort with?
Wouldn’t you keep it on hand as a deterrent, the ultimate option when all else fails? Have you been to war?
Would you disrespect the sacrifice so many have made? No, no and no and no.
Torments storm the gate: all those abandoned angels, the lover left alone in the garden,
the White Lady’s husband drunk on rage, her cliff of screams echoing, echoing.
So I go out walking, not away, not toward, but into: light rain, the morning dripping, green.
the slumbering seeds awake,
decipher their orders,
and begin their mission:
tug against the tether
Broadleaf or needle
some last a season
from the soft succulence of early green
to the dry, brittle end
empty of chlorophyll
Night crawlers drag the fallen into their holes
to feast on in the dark
Do the souls of trees cast shadows
on the shade of Socrates
as he makes his proof
to those gathered below the leaves:
dead from the living,
living from the dead?
The elemental language trees can speak
remains to us faint whispers
we can barely parse,
no clear translations,
the latest news?
phrases formed from pheromones, phenols,
released to air,
sent through soil
from root to root to root:
Drift me some needles
to cover this ground
I’ll steep them in rain water
to sip through the winter
In spring I’ll gift you pollen
on gusts of wind
await yours and yours when it shifts
May our seeds
the proof that we have touched
be buried just deep enough
We’ll endow each sprout our shade or
use of our bodies,
assure there is no end
James (Jim) Dott is a retired elementary teacher living and writing in Astoria, Oregon near the mouth of the mighty Columbia. His book A Glossary of Memory, an imagined memoir in 26 poems, was published earlier this year. He is working on a sequence of poems about trees. His work has previously appeared in Turtle Island Quarterly, as well as many other journals including, Southern Poetry Review, Written River, and hubbub.
poem by Al Ortolani
An abandoned road bends downhill. Once a railroad access, it twists, rutted and wash-boarded, to the valley. The thick tangle of forest canopies what little road remains. Early signs of leaf change splatter the tops of the trees—wearied yellow, mottled brown, splashed red. The season’s frost works from the sky downwards to the roots. The phone vibrates a text: poetry reading in Westport cancelled.
tapping the awning,
the moth’s flight
in and out of rain
More reliable are the sighing trees, the distant woodpeckers and the insistent crickets. Stonecrop, scattered across the rocks, blooms beyond summer’s end. As oblivious to man as stars, it snags the rocky soil with tenacious roots, waiting the occasional rain, following the sun, cultivated by wind and bees. Three vultures ride the air currents into full sun. They tilt, spin on wingtips. Crows in the distant hedgerow applaud the solitude, the old voice speaking.
chained to bicycles
Al Ortolani’s prose and poetry has appeared in Rattle, New Letters, the New York Quarterly, The Midwest Quarterly, The English Journal, The Quarterly, The Laurel Review, Prairie Schooner, Word Riot, Camroc Press Review, and others. He is the author of one chapbook, Slow Stirring Spoon, High/CooPress, two collections of poetry, The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge, both published by Woodley Press at Washburn University. His third book of poetry, Wren’s House, a collection of haiku, published by Coal City Press in Lawrence, Kansas. Book four, Cooking Chili on the Day of the Dead, was published by Aldrich Press, CA. His fifth book,Waving Mustard in Surrender, was released from New York Quarterly Books, New York, New York. His sixth collection, Francis Shoots
Pool at Chubb's Bar came out in February 2015 from Spartan Press in Kansas City, Missouri. Soon to be released will be Paper Birds Don't Fly, New York Quarterly Books, and Ghost Sign with J.T. Knoll, Adam Jameson, and Melissa Fite Johnson from Spartan Press in Kansas City, White Buffalo Poets.
poem by Matthew Dobson
Skull Collector: Calf
At the skull’s base,
There is a hole through which passes the stem
That links the brain and spine,
The spinal column,
But in this case, there are two skulls
For the one hole:
Conjoined skulls, twins
Nearly, except their body’s one.
In other words, this thing was a two headed calf,
A true freak, and
To see the skull, the way the mandibles
Melt into one another
Like drops of wax,
You understand the gooseflesh of
Those lads who birthed it,
Who felt two cries
Wobble at dawn in the black barn,
Who peeled the birthing sack to see four eyes
And to be seen
By four eyes rising on four legs, driven
By one heart, one mind.
A wider world
It saw, than they ever did, straw
Settling on straw
And the slow ribcage
Of its mother, before a shovel
Severed the brainstem and left the skull intact.
Matthew Dobson was born in 1986 and lives in Halifax, England, where he teaches secondary school English. His poems have been published in Agenda, Neon, and Butcher's Dog