TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 4
Michael Lauchlan (3 poems), Jane Blue (2 poems),
Kevin Casey (1 poem), and Maggie Blake (book review of Jane Hirshfield's Come, Thief)
THREE POEMS BY MICHAEL LAUCHLAN
My friend writes from India,
from his quest to find a tiger
in the wild. He longs to see
the red orange stripes, the slow
churn of muscles, the face
emerging from a thicket. I stand
in muck beside the Rouge
and raise glasses toward a blue
line stirring the reeds on the bank
opposite. A heron waits.
He’ll spear a fish, stretch
his neck, spread his sail
wings and languorously rise
in widening circles. This old
ghost seems to have waded
here since Potowatami trapped
and farmed but will soon glide
over campus, mall, roads,
and return to stand, wait. A tug
returns me to the child
at my side. Her eyes
implore, compel. I hand
over the glasses and point
her toward the bank. We see
so little, aim such narrow
beams into the vastness.
The blue rises and she shrieks
in joy. Is it recognition,
I’ll ask my traveller friend,
even this first sight?
The Name of Trees
Along a path, trees are leafed out
for August, giving up their green
names to any literate woodsman;
but their riches are lost on the lost.
I stare into their open branches
at oval and mitten-maple leaves.
How many greens are required
to ring the earth with trees? The shades
blow through me, freeing knots
in my forehead, tearing away
my rehearsed logic and reasons
for fear. Radiant in late light,
a ghostly birch stands
with maple and dying ash. The rest
remain a line of voluptuous strangers
murmuring a foreign tongue. Years back,
leaving a strange city, I saw a mule
pulling a fruit cart, women scrubbing
laundry on rocks of a river. Hip-hop
mixed with mariachi in thick air
as we bounced along a dirt road.
The cab driver, our idle chat,
the river’s name and the villages
we passed--have faded like names
of trees along the road. I hang
on to a vivid guacamaya and the face
of a small boy with a bandaged arm.
As witnesses go, I’m a failure,
morally suspect, myopic, deaf,
preoccupied, superstitious, vain.
What I can’t name, I often forget,
save a few ill-fitting scraps.
One deep chord, then another, like a man
walking near Cemetery Hill on fogged
streets too early for cars. Ever since
she passed, he starts days like this.
A few grackles gripe from roosts.
Another widower and a silent, grey
woman join the procession. Some kids
weave in amid the quiet ones. Pipes
of a carousel ring up from below
as a valley town’s glitter begins
to pierce the morning. What bright
riders mount those faded steeds
which first gleamed in a strange world
his parents' parents might've known?
Michael Lauchlan’s poems have landed in many publications including New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The North American Review, English Journal, The Dark Horse, Nimrod, and The Cortland Review, and have been included in Abandon Automobile, from WSU Press and in A Mind Apart, from Oxford. He has also been awarded the Consequence Prize in Poetry.
His collection, Trumbull Ave., is forthcoming from Wayne State University Press.
TWO POEMS BY JANE BLUE
The roses and orange blossoms are almost
A man says, “Ciao,” to his lover, my neighbor.
The curtness of it so intimate.
Sparrows gabble in the green, green trees,
recently bare. A breeze
has laid dogwood flowers on the lawn
like a mirror, or a lake.
A chainsaw whines, and children call
in the same timbre.
Her Japanese maple has just turned
lacy and crimson. His car door slams.
The birds are the loudest things around,
insistent at measured intervals.
People get in their cars and trucks
to go and find nature. An alarm beeps.
A door opens and shuts, a car starts.
My neighbor leaves; she’s on her phone.
A Moment in April
A cat sits on a piece of cardboard,
collapsed box, in sun and shadow.
Sun and shadow, sun and shadow:
that is life. The cat holds tomorrow
in its paws. Loam is piled in the street
and spread across a garden in the making;
bricks line up in the process
of being laid for a walkway; a wooden box
on the driveway, and draped tarps.
From here it looks like an artist’s studio.
A baby dove scratches in the gutter.
I’m not sure it can fly. The cat
has disappeared. Has it eaten the dove?
No! It did! It flew! Up into the plane tree.
Up to the nest. So many sweet smells
on the air. So many different bird calls.
Jane Blue has been published recently in Convergence, Tule Review, Pirene's Fountain, FutureCycle, and The Innisfree Poetry Journal. A new book of poems, Blood Moon, was published by FutureCycle Press January 1, 2014. She was born and raised in Berkeley, California but now lives near the Sacramento River with her husband, Peter Rodman.
POEM BY KEVIN CASEY
Have care, or you may be caught in the weir
of stars hanging low those cold spring nights,
once the freezing rains pass that smother the snow
in mist. The pond, melt-swollen, choked with willows,
holds wind-thrown boughs, dismembered and clutching
at the surface in memory of the fall.
Have care as you trace your tight ellipse
around the pond, searching, and with some luck
a yellow-spotted salamander wriggles
from the bottom, fat and shovel-headed,
its frozen, rubbery skin improbably
polka-dotted -- a cartoon, a child’s drawing.
And one of them will land it, one small child
with a minnow net, lifting from below:
you have to get the timing right on this.
They’ll want to take it home, but then there’d be
no jellied, blistered fist of eggs to follow,
once the snow dissolves to trout lilies,
and the pallid scraps of dangling moths,
and peepers, screaming hectic rhapsodies.
You have to get the timing right on this,
as one by one these children grow, and each
is caught in the weir of stars, and at last
the porch’s light has no one to guide home.
Kevin Casey a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and received his graduate degree at the University of Connecticut. His work has been accepted by the Milo Review, Futures Trading, Small Print Magazine, Tule Review, and others, and he's also served as editor for Crosscut Magazine. He currently teaches literature in Maine, where he enjoys fishing, snowshoeing and hiking.
BOOK REVIEW BY MAGGIE BLAKE
The Alchemy of the Everyday:
A Review of Jane Hirshfield’s Come, Thief
Come, Thief: Poems
By Jane Hirshfield
Knopf 2011, 112 pages
Reviewed by Maggie Blake
Come, Thief is Jane Hirshfield’s latest poetry collection, the ninth published of over the last thirty years. In 2012, Hirshfield was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, an honor that well reflects her accomplished career to date. In addition to being a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for her 2001 collection, Given Sugar, Given Salt, her work has also been in included in seven editions of Best American Poetry. Further honors include the 70th Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by the Academy of American Poets in 2004, the Poetry Center Book Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations.
It would be easy to claim that Hirshfield, in this most recent collection, is concerned primarily with the physical. From the first, meaning is rooted in the specific, tangible objects of her consideration: a French horn, a maple tree, a pear. The table of contents reads almost as a strange, disarming shopping list. That easy claim is, however, wildly insufficient.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the poem, “Fifteen Pebbles.” Its discrete sections strip poetry to one of its deepest roots: metaphor. When presented with metaphor, readers are often left in the vehicle, tenor implied, perhaps glimpsed. Not so here. Here the tenor is celebrated and displayed. Yet the brash display of intention does nothing to dilute the images. And like pebbles taken from a walk and held in hand, the images remain, warm from touch and consideration. The section entitled Perfection of Loss reads: “Like a native speaker/ returned/ after long exile/ quiet now in two tongues.” It is not a riddle, but it is a weight that remains in the mind, a gift.
Taking a step beyond even that amount of clarity, Hirshfield at times relies on the more accessible device of simile, yet the directness of the accessibility creates urgency, not complacency. When “All the Difficult Hours and Minutes” begins with the lines, “All the difficult hours and minutes/ are like salted plums in a jar,” it is the unexpected nature of the connection that provides the depth and grit, not the complexity of the device deployed. The reader hurtles through the remaining four lines, needing the expansion and clarification they promise in the statement that “[j]ust so, calamity turns toward calmness.” However, as with previous poems, the poem ends not on this insight, but on insight deepened by a return to the physical world: “First a jar holds the umeboshi, then the rice does.” We have returned to the umeboshi, the salt plums, and just as their meaning has deepened, they also moved beyond the jar of the initial simile.
And again, a mere few pages later, the final stanza of “Invitation” closes with three similes, each the answer to the line “But the invitation’s perfume?--/”: “Quick as a kidnap,/ faithless as adultery,/ fatal as hope.” The juxtaposition yields the power, not the construction. Given the immediacy of language, it makes sense that toward the center of the collection, in “Sentencings,” Hirschfield observes, “[a]ny point of a circle is its start:/ desire foregoing fulfillment to go on desiring.” The image is apt, as a reader could dip into Come, Thief at any poem and read until they reached that poem again, collecting these pebbles, these juxtapositions. But doing so would rob the reader of the insight of the final poem.
The collection ends with a twist: “The Supple Deer” voices not the speaker’s desire to move with the grace of a deer seemingly “poured through” a “quiet opening/ between fence strands/ perhaps eighteen inches,” but instead, the desire to be the fence, “[t]o be that porous, to have such largeness pass through” And in that turn, in that unexpected definition of her “accurate envy,” we see the larger magic at work on Come, Thief. With that greater understanding the reader starts again, turns to the first poem, “French Horn,” and sees not only the power of simile, but the power of alchemy, transmutation. “[P}lum’s blossoms do not hear the bee/ nor taste themselves turned into storable honey/ by that sumptuous disturbance,” but nonetheless they are made into that sweet gold.
And here the insufficiency of saying these are physical poems shouts most loudly from the page. Such a claim presents, at its heart, a false dichotomy between the physical and the emotional. In these poems, the physical world is the expression of the emotional, internal world, not as a reflection but as a conversation, each deepening the appreciation of the other. Deer do not exist solely as catalyst for meditation, but they are richer for it, just as we are. And that conversation dwells, as the title, Come, Thief, implies, with loss. Loss is the titular “thief,” but it has been invited.
In “Stone and Knife,” “some griefs augment the heart,/ enlarge;/ some stunt...these losses are small./” There the stanza ends and the poem closes with the solitary line: “Others cannot be described at all.” Perhaps it cannot be described, but the poems understand both the pain and the inevitability of death. Rather than rage against it, Hirshfield redefines it through varied contexts. Through the close quarters of metaphor and simile, she opens it up. And just as she opens the definition, she opens us to have that “largeness pass through [us].”
This review first appeared in Flycatcher
MAGGIE BLAKE currently lives and teaches in Atlanta, Georgia. She has studied at Stanford, Oxford, and Brown Universities and is now working toward her MFA in the Sewanee School of Letters program. Her poems have been previously published in The Southern Poetry Anthology Volume V: Georgia, and in Town Creek Poetry. Her work is also forthcoming in Tar River Poetry, Switchback, and Foothill this year.