TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 8
Martin Willitts Jr. (3 poems and 1 essay), Emily Tuszynska (1 poem),
Steve Dieffenbacher (1 poem), Laurie Kolp (1 poem)
3 POEMS AND AN ESSAY BY MARTIN WILLITTS JR.
Painting by Eric Sloane
“the sky was created for pure beholding” — Eric Sloane
Over thirty different variations of blue
as a storm gangs-up
ready to double-down on dropping
hail or retribution
temperature changes the white-wash barn
as a grizzled old man’s unshaven chin
and blisters the paint like worn knuckles
weather-beaten to a pulp
down for the count
taken one to many upper-cut blows
the hill grass flattens powder-blue
the shortness of breath
is in the stacked hay bales
like blue-faced sugar cubes
the hard-set winds stir harsh and icy
slat shutters rattle-clack
weather-vane shifts its weight
gates curve with low-pressure
autumn is bending the rules
Finding a Turtle
I told my son that terrapin shells
hold the secret to Tectonic plates —
he thinks, dinner plates with painted peonies.
The box turtle nudges with flippers
across a stream
of endless stars, like smooth dull stones.
The turtle tugs its prehistoric head in its shell
like a person afraid to admit the truth:
they see the earth plodding to extinction.
My son asks, what if the plates pull apart,
will we fall in the cracks?
He remembers how dinner plates break.
He requests to take the turtle home.
He’d seen one smashed by tires.
I say, it belongs here in the wild.
He considers the fragile peonies,
the stars drowning in silence,
trash piling with nowhere to go.
He suggests, the turtle is safer with us.
He dwells on the fissures of life and death.
He demands a turtle shell for a body.
What truth could I give him?
My answers are skid marks.
I crack under pressure.
Walking Hill Slopes
I walk up hill slopes
of layered pine needles
to hear the snap through fall-dip
to focus on what is essential
what I can forget
the humming wind
like feeling the fibers of a feather
I am home
away from the sour-stench city
I can dream this is reality everywhere
sometimes I do not want to turn back
I want to shed my skin like pine needles
when I get like this
I remember why I come back here
and go back there
how can I appreciate what I have
without knowing the difference
Listening to the Smallest Hidden Voices
Listening and observation are parts of Silent Meditation. New worlds and possibilities exist to those who chose the path of Openness. What is heartfelt? — Other than the heart feeling the absolute Otherness? There are layers of small, microscopic lifeforms waiting to be noticed, because we are all inter-connected and symbiotic: without one lifeform, some other lifeform has risk of dying out.
As a Quaker, I use Silent Meditation to bring me to inner-sight (the root meaning of “Insight”). We listen for messages from “the Light” (God). Quakers believe all life (we include rocks and other so-called “non-life” as “life”) has “that of God”, which means we try not to harm anything. I just extend that definition of life. If you do not believe in my definition of life, I will remind you that we all consist of molecules, even rocks, and what separates us is how we perceive the molecules as form (rocks, trees, people, water). Because we are essentially molecules held together by gravity, we share relationships with other objects, both as connection and inter-connection with other objects.
An example I use often is the silkworm (Saturniidae) and the White Mulberry (Morus alba). They are symbiotic. One cannot exist without the other. The silkworm is necessary for making silk but a lot of people do not like the appearance of their cocoon, nor the appearance of the tiny black larva that eats the mulberry leaves; at the same time, many people consider the mulberry to be an unnecessary tree, an eyesore that produces inedible fruit, which when the fruit falls to the ground will make a stain.
There was a forest of mulberry trees in Massachusetts that had silkworms. A factory was built to make silk and a lot of jobs were created to make the silk. The town grew as people moved to get jobs. When some people did not understand the delicate relationship between the silkworm which became emperor moth, and the tree, they destroyed the cocoons and trees. Then there were no more silkworms or silk or jobs. The factory closed and people moved away. The town shrank in size.
We continue to destroy the earth with bad practices like pollution and GMO’s. Politicians deny climate change. Bee colonies are collapsing. Sooner or later, everything will break down, and we will face extinction unless some positive changes are enacted. We tend to feel overwhelmed, want to surrender. However, small changes are the best way to affect change: growing organically, reducing carbon footprints, respecting the earth. Meanwhile the earth is in pain. What we do next will determine outcomes. Left alone, the earth could heal.
One of the common themes in all of my Turtle Island Quarterly poems current and past is that
idea of Perception. What is real? What is hidden? Why do some people see layers of reality?
Inside the simple are the layers of complexity. When seen under a microscope, we see tiny moving molecules, some splitting and multiplying, or DNA separating us from fish, or the cellular structure of leaves looking like honeycombs. When we look into the vastness of space through an observatory, we see how small we really are in the universe and how many worlds we do not know.
In my poem, “Autumn Clouds”, I was looking at a painting noticing the variations of blue and grey, and how other colors were blended into those two primary colors. The painter’s focus was on the cloud formation which determined all the color of all the other objects in the painting: the hills, grass, farm buildings, and rocks. As much as the artist was noticing the effect of light and cloudiness, I was noticing how the structures looked ruined by age and weather. Under beauty there was the betrayal.
All three poems in this section are formal structures: two trecets and a quatrain; two of them abandon punctuation. “Walking Hill Slopes” is a very naturalistic view of a hilly area versus congestion and pollution in the city. The turning point for me is the simple statement “to focus on what is essential”: the calmness, the clearness of air, the smell of pine needles. At that line, I reach a point of focus like the famous William Carlos Williams’ Red Wheelbarrow poem. All the words become essential. The poem also turns on the line “I can dream this is reality”. Now the poem becomes a question of reality, as well as did this walk up a hill really happen? I refer often to living in two worlds. One is the world where most people exist, and that is the existence where people are living but are not noticing; the other is the world beyond-sight, embracing the senses, and seeing the hidden world where true reality is.
“Finding a Turtle” is another simple observation which unfolds into many other observations.
Many children find turtles and want to take them home. Some parents allow the children to bring the turtle out of the natural world into a world that is strange to the turtle, and then the turtle dies.
Some parents leave the turtles behind, unconcerned for the turtle. In this poem, the turtle is connected to the earth.
I know the Native American story of Turtle Island from five different tribes and their five variations. All of those stories intersect with the earth being on a turtle’s shell. When you see diagrams of the Tectonic plates and the shell of a turtle, there is a similarity. The Native Americans could not have seen the Tectonic plates, but somehow made the connection. A Jungian might say that the connection is pre-memory. I also connect the turtle to the old adage of hiding in a shell to avoid something: fear, or the truth. I bring into the poem an inquisitive child whose asks profound yet typical questions that are metaphysical (“will we fall in the cracks”), as well as a child’s natural misunderstanding (“Teutonic plates” for “dinner plates”). The Tectonic plates shift and move, creating fissures, which create either earthquakes or volcanoes or mountains or oceanic trenches. In the end of the poem, my son suggests that the turtle “would be safer with us”. At that point, he has moved beyond selfish reasons for wanting to bring a turtle out of its natural world to a more earth-conscious reason (for survival) that suggests we can offer earth-care so that Turtle Island can survive.
As a teller of stories, I have told hidden messages. For although I have opened the box of stories like Anansi the Spider in Africa or like Spider Woman in the Hopi or like Pandora in Greek mythology, and stories flew around here and there for us to find, there is another box within each story and another box inside that story, just like Russian Nest Dolls. What you have to do is open all the boxes within the box you find. You keep opening boxes within boxes until you run out of boxes. The answer to our many questions is always found by searching through all the possible and impossible answers leading to more questions. You just have to able to have patience to open possibilities, listening and observing along the way.
Martin Willitts Jr is a retired Librarian living in central New York. He was the winner of the 2012 International Dylan Thomas Poetry Award for the centennial and he has said he wants to win it again in one hundred years. He has over 20 chapbooks and 8 full length collections of poetry including “Irises, the Lightning Conductor For Van Gogh's Illness” (Aldrich Press, 2014). His forthcoming poetry books include “How to Be Silent” (FutureCycle Press), “God Is Not Amused With What You Are Doing In Her Name” (Aldrich Press), and “Hearing the Inaudible” (Poetica Publishing).
POEM BY EMILY TUSZYNSKA
Each time he surfaces it is the same—a widening circle of light
he swims toward and penetrates, and again the world
springs into being—the same, and yet subtly changed,
wind off the water increasingly raw, the smallest noises
grown somehow more distinct. Under the unsteady surface
he moves as effortlessly as thought in a mind untethered
at the moment of sleep, seaweed brushing his face
like a dream, the blank, muffling engine-noise
of a far ship throbbing across distance to enfold him.
Now he turns and pushes off from the silken bottom
and the surface-line touches his forehead, his eyelids,
his lips . . . the world returns, at once immediate
and remote, with him in it, gasping and dripping, air and light,
land and water, splayed out on all sides. As the sun sinks,
with each resurfacing the landscape takes on a greater depth—
a sense of something behind the trees, beyond the adults
and their screen of talk—a certain fullness pressing up from behind
as evening light ripens the dunes. Water shifts up and down the pilings,
concealing, revealing. Yes, the darkening trees are a mystery,
and the evening breeze a spirit, moving over the face of the water.
The sound of the water is the sound of its name, a ceaseless whispering
that can never be stilled, though the mind grows numb to its hearing.
Emily Tuszynska lives, works, and explores in Virginia with her husband and three young children. Her poems have appeared in various journals including Sou’Wester, Center, So To Speak, Poet Lore, Crab Orchard Review, and Natural Bridge. She runs Poets and Painters, an occasional summer residency for artists and their families.
POEM BY STEVE DIEFFENBACHER
They learn life’s secret early, rising fast while they can
to die slowly among Douglas-firs in a long midlife.
In forest shadows, they are autumn’s dependable consolation,
ridged, yellow leaves hanging easily under daylong clouds,
muted even then to low outliers under dark evergreens.
Exhausted from stealing the air’s nitrogen to fertilize
new ground, shade kills them, their dyes turning nets invisible
to salmon, their wood soon made into fish-smoke coals.
They know their niche and keep it, giving way when they must –
confident profligates rising like teeth from bulldozed fields.
Steve Dieffenbacher’s full-length book of poems, "The Sky Is a Bird of
Sorrow," was published by Wordcraft of Oregon in 2012. The collection
won a ForeWord Reviews Bronze Award for poetry. A poem in the book,
“Night Singer, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico,” was named a 2012 Spur Award
poetry finalist by the Western Writers of America, and his poem,
“Emptiness,” won the 2010 Cloudbank magazine poetry prize. His work also
is included in "What the River Brings: Oregon River Poems" (2012) by Fae
Press; "Deer Drink the Moon" (2007), an anthology of Oregon poetry
published by Portland State University; in the chapbooks "Universe of
the Unsaid" (2009) and "At the Boundary" (2001). He also has won honors
in writing, photography, and page design in his work as a journalist. He
lives in Talent, Oregon.
POEM BY LAURIE KOLP
My son asked if I caught the sound outside my window
where I sat writing this poem about blackbirds as harbingers of death
since I’d seen a flock of them sweep down upon my parent’s backyard
shortly before Mother’s passing. I hadn’t heard the ravens at all
the low hum of oxygen much too overbearing
yet hypnotic in its mundane way
breathing hope, invigoration
into Mom’s cancer-ridden body
that started five months ago
with lungs overpowered by black spots
like the birds filling their lawn
while I sat bedside, a vigilante.
So when my son asked if I heard the crickets,
his summer eyes eager to say goodbye
to a winter everything poets say winter is
in all the poems about dying in winter, which Mother did
faster than the seasons change, yet slow
from autumn to w i n t e r to spring
I said no.
Laurie Kolp poems have most recently appeared in Blue Fifth Review, Hermes Poetry Journal, Pirene’s Fountain, Concho River Review and the 2015 Poet’s Market. Her complete collection of poetry, Upon the Blue Couch, was released in 2014 through Winter Goose Publishing. A complete list of Laurie's publications can be found on her website, www.lauriekolp.com.