TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 7
Eric Paul Shaffer (3 poems), Jim Davis (1 poem),
Sara Clancy (1 poem), Martin Willitts Jr. (2 poems)
3 Poems by Eric Paul Shaffer
What I Least Expect
In the morning, what I least expect is steak for breakfast
although I will take eggs, over easy, please, and some
chunked papaya. What I expect less is the barn owl
swooping from the kiawe tree and landing on the green
painted planks of the picnic table, pale, heart-shaped face
gaping and amazed. What I don't expect is the silence
spilling over the south field as the sun sets because
what I really do expect is the chittering of silverbills
and the slanting sparkle and spit of skylark song winding
through a blue too bright to spot him in. I never expect
to see the Black Francolin though I daily hear his piercing
call preceded by that clear thin whistle. Nor do I expect
to see the rim of Haleakalā after noon, but sometimes
that mad clarity remains all day till sunset pinks the slope.
And what I least expect, what I realize I never expect,
is whatever happens right in front of me as I walk uphill
on the fading two-track lane through knee-high grass
beyond the hibiscus bush and disappear over the crest.
Assault on Comet Tempel 1, or On Shooting Fire at Ice
Appalling as such missions are, I am no longer appalled.
Spending 333 million dollars to throw 333 pounds of pennies
at a dirty snowball 88 million miles away is essential
to see what's the matter anywhere but here.
Well, that's no surprise.
The comet is old as Earth, an ort of ice and dirt left over
after the age too many believe
creation was complete, and everybody knows
taking a potshot at the universe
always advances human knowledge.
It's as simple as shooting stars in a barrel.
But, hey, keep your chin up!
Over our heads is a lesson as fresh as yesterday's headlines.
Tonight, we've learned a great truth about how we discover
what we want to know
about all the wonderful things in the universe: we hit them.
Planets, Houses, and the Night Always Above Us
The celestial houses are ordered and mobile and steady in their progress
through the night, and I love the dark sky for the perverse illusion
of permanence over the shallow pitch of roofs on Earth capping only woes.
Thunder rumbles within, and a pale moon wanes over walls in need
of spackle and paint. I have no counsel, and none would hear me if I did,
so I stand on the grass in a dark yard. All I do is listen and stare at stars.
In the quiet house behind me, my affections are deep, dull currents
I don’t understand any more than I understand the reason for the narrow,
golden zone where life flourishes around the sun and we just happen to be.
My luck is not mine, and the constellations in my heart change only slowly.
The orbits of my hours are regular if elliptical.
My brain spins like Mercury,
flitting around the Sun, and my heart is Jupiter, ponderous, thick, cloudy,
rolling a red eye around, slowly regarding the universe. Orbited by moons
of complexity and wonder, I gaze on glittering rings around a near neighbor,
marveling without coveting the beauty. I’m a great gas giant
of latitudinal storms and unbreathable elements in winds blowing fast
and fundamentally through the whirls my thoughts leave on my face.
I’m as bald as Mars, and I cartwheel through my orbit on hands and feet
like Uranus so the sun can kiss my axis, and my other pole directs attention
to darkness. My words are as unexpected and blue and wobbly at the edge
of the universe as Neptune is. My passions are as great as the pressure
on Venus, veiled not for fear but for the wisdom in concealing the heart
and keeping what we love close.
Eric Paul Shaffer is the author of five books of poetry, including Lāhaina Noon (2005), Living at the Monastery, Working in the Kitchen (2001), and Portable Planet (2000). His poems appear in Slate, American Scholar, North American Review, The Sun Magazine, and Threepenny Review; Australia's Going Down Swinging, Island, and Quadrant; Canada's CV2, Dalhousie Review, Event, and Fiddlehead; Éire's Poetry Ireland Review and Southword; England's Iota, Prole, and Stand Magazine; and New Zealand's Poetry NZ and Takahē.
Poem by Jim Davis
Cityscape with Cupcake Tops
Crenulated fleck from the horseknuckle leaf
found its way into my coffee. A world of orbits
& gravity faults. A little life suspended
in ivy flowers, hoverflies of the bakery. It pleases me
to think that I have survived razorblades
hidden in peanut butter & cheese. Pickled beef tongue
behind the deli glass, beside oxtail rounds, ceramic bowl
painted like an egg, of pig parts used for soup, here
is where I bought the coffee now swimming
with whatever ecosystem finds origin
on the leaf of a horseknuckle tree. I will discard
the tender lower halves. This afternoon
I’ll take the number of a set-dresser, costumed
as an Atom Bomb – I will not call, I’ll be busy
with the one doing handstands in the kitchen, she
of the purple underthings and sweet potato maki.
These are the days
I missed in my previous life. I’ll squeeze color
from overpass graffiti, all the rainbow pills I have
swallowed, emptied in a marsh within the clawed
porcelain tub weighing down a single-room apartment.
I’ve used the razorblades to carve a bar of soap into
many smaller soaps. In your 20s you are the victim
only if you suffer, she said, the only good reason to turn
your back to nature is to even out your tan, she said
as she stuck her finger into my cup, as we settled
our freckled faces into the shadow of the bakery
where a spectral patch of grass smells like French
vanilla, cinnamon swirl, small dewdrops of gasoline.
It’s pretty good, she said, wouldn’t you say?
Yes, I said, good, picking ivy flower petals for my cup.
Jim Davis is an MFA candidate at Northwestern University. His work has appeared in Wisconsin Review, Seneca Review, Adirondack Review, Midwest Quarterly, and Contemporary American Voices, among many others. Jim lives, writes, and paints in Chicago, where he reads for TriQuarterly and edits North Chicago Review
Poem by Sara Clancy
That saxophone blows pure
provocation against the backbone of ordinary
air. I hear it as a subatomic clue, a node
of liquid temptation swimming up current
and straight into the crucible of my routine.
If I dip into hesitation like an avoidance
maneuver and loan out these bones of my pelvis,
I am sure to recover them in 5/4 time. Dirty,
duplicitous and porous as they ever were.
Sara Clancy is a Philadelphia transplant to the Desert Southwest. Her poems have appeared, or are forthcoming in The Madison Review, The Smoking Poet, Verse Wisconsin, The Linnet's Wings, Burningword Literary Journal, Owen Wister Review, Pale Horse Review, VAYAVYA and Houseboat, where she was a featured poet. She lives out in the toolies with her husband, their dog and a 23 year old goldfish named Darryl.
2 poems by Martin Willitts Jr
The shortest day in the year, the one where darkness
walked towards school and the only light was snow,
and the land would wonder if the sun would return
so it turned its empty trees trying to open the night.
All the animals had been gorging food in preparation,
for these were the famine months. Everyone would forget
the sun and despair. The long hungry shadows were everywhere.
These were the days before refrigeration. When ice
in the river would be stored for summer on straw.
This is when it was important to have a root cellar,
or cold storage, and knew how to can. This is when bulbs
slept, dreaming of the future, while we asked about spring.
We would be assured it would be back. It was comforting.
This was before polar vortexes became common. This
was before we tried to shorten the life of the planet.
This was before we heard that it was opposite
on the other side of the world and it made no sense.
Now nothing makes any sense. Too many disbelieve.
The animals and plants and trees are confused.
What we are doing to the planet makes less sense.
In the dark gravity of these falls
is a muteness of grief
in the air and leaves.
Light passes through its hands.
There are seasons we cannot imagine.
The firm signature of changes comes anyway.
I will not see every day, these changes.
Light is such a giver and taker.
This entire world is built on promises.
And what would happen if nature forgot
to keep those promises? It is quiet, now,
and a kingfisher is the stillness of grass.
All of love is gravity towards the heart.
It is blue and white wings of a kingfisher
rising from water beds of falls and light.
Shadows from leaves turns towards silence.
All weariness jumps out of our body.
Light from leaves is fire wanting love.
Martin Willitts Jr is the winner of the 2012 Big River Poetry Review’s William K. Hathaway Award ; co-winner of the 2013 Bill Holm Witness Poetry Contest; winner of the 2013 “Trees” Poetry Contest; winner of the 2014 Broadsided award; winner of the 2014 Dylan Thomas International Poetry Contest. He has 7 full-length collections including national ecology winner for “Searching for What You Cannot See” (Hiraeth Press, 2013), “Before Anything, There Was Mystery” (Flutter Press, 2014), and “Irises, the Lightning Conductor For Van Gogh's Illness” (Aldrich Press). He has 28 chapbooks including national chapbook contest winning “William Blake, Not Blessed Angel But Restless Man” (Red Ochre Press, 2014), and "Swimming in the Ladle of Stars" (Kattywompus Press,2014).