3 POEMS BY JENNIFER A. McGOWAN
PURITAN WINTER, 1983
Two feet of snow and well below zero.
Furnace and power both gone.
We take it in turns to bring in wood,
chisel it, frozen, from the pile.
Mostly we sit wrapped in blankets
in front of the fire, talking quietly,
staring into the flames, and visiting God,
bearing faith or its opposite as housewarming.
It’s important to be neighbourly—
otherwise the cold is too vast to contemplate.
And when we climbed the stairs
to your attic bedroom, trailing covers and coverlets,
we tried to take warmth with us,
shivering between sheets and under everything we could find,
unsurprised when even the ghosts hissed
and tried to climb in to leach heat.
Next day, the procession, the trailing trains,
the outdoor pilgrimages, the blanket nests.
My stay over, I went home, but I remember
even your tall form small
against the shock-white, waving.
FIRE AND HEMLOCK
Stubs of once-gold amber go up
in smoke. The fields are burning. Like
a rabbit, an insect, I flee the leading edge.
Heat warps sensation, draws it all
unto itself. I am that dark ground
hardening, flaking into ash. Flames
against the retreating sky: Look
to me, my time is always now.
I draw ragged grey breath against
our conflagration, our ghosts
colourless at this dying of the year.
The hemlock nods against the burnt horizon.
I reach my hand, grasp nothing.
TRUE TO NATURE
The stream that runs, burbles, onomatopoeia, etc.
past the place where you’d get stones to skip,
turns, at the oak tree, into a sneer, white
with unsuppressed rage. Despite pleading and
reasonability, it remains obdurate, or rather
stretched over obduracy, its submerged rocks not needing
to be guessed at. So, when I need to remember you,
I come here, to this map of your face, this caricature
drawn in wet leaves and false tears.
Where at last I can heave the heaviest rock
to disrupt you, only to have it closed over
as if I did not exist. You always did say
you were close to nature. I leave you there.
Jennifer A. McGowan obtained her PhD from the University of Wales. Despite being certified as disabled at age 16, she has published poetry and prose in many magazines and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Connecticut Review, Agenda, Pank, The Rialto, Acumen, and Poetry Salzburg. Having just won the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize, her first full collection, The Weight of Coming Home, will come out in June 2015.
POEM BY RODNEY NELSON
the willow are not coloring with sap
but heat is in on the wind and I have
no words to keep it out
in time the insects will be of the world
not on a day of no omen in trees
that amount to clutter
I want to open up every bone
in me to the wind but know if I do
the words will not follow
Rodney Nelson's work began appearing in mainstream journals long ago; but he turned to fiction and did not write a poem for twenty-two years, restarting in the 2000s. So he is both older and "new." See his page in the Poets & Writers directory http://www.pw.org/content/rodney_nelson
for a notion of the publishing history. He has worked as a copy editor in the Southwest and now lives in the northern Great Plains. Recently, his poem "One Winter" won a Poetry Kit Award for 2011 (U.K.); it had appeared in Symmetry Pebbles. His "Upstream in Idaho" received a Best of Issue Award at the late Neon Beam (also England). The chapbook Metacowboy was published in 2011; another title, In Wait, in November 2012. Bog Light and Sighting the Flood have just appeared. The chapbook Fargo in Winter took second place in the 2013 Cathlamet Prize competition at Ravenna Press, Spokane. Directions From Enloe won third in the Turtle Island Quarterly contest. Nelson's chapbook of prose narratives, Hill of Better Sleep, is out from Red Bird Chapbooks. Mogollon Picnic, poems (Red Dashboard), is already in print; and the poetry ebook Nodding in Time (Kind of a Hurricane Press) is "up." The full-length Felton Prairie has appeared just now at Middle Island Press. Red Dashboard has brought out another, Words For the Deed.
POEM BY JOHN GREY
ABROAD THOUGHTS FROM HOME
I know where I am by the birds that wake me,
No raucous jays but cackling kookaburras on a wire
or the screech of a flock of green lorikeets. And
the mating of month and temperature is another compass.
No chilly December morning this. It's the southern
sun that warms my top-soil, the one that wrote the recipe
for Christmas cookouts.; I drink coffee now, not tea,
and I make my own before the house arises. My breakfast
is a bowl of bran. The days of my sisters and I gathered
around the morning cholesterol heap are faint history.
I'll even walk later. At one year of age or so, I proved I
could. Now, in middle age, I prove I have to.
I sit in a comfortable chair, spy the swimming pool
through the downstairs picture window. It's chlorine
green, I make a point to look elsewhere for my information
as to sky. It's early morning here, last night in America.
I'm wide awake in my past, tired, and heading off to bed
in my future. Sparrows chortle from their rough apartments
in the hedge. Now that's a song for wherever I am,
a bird as ubiquitous as McDonald's. I hear the creak
of mattress in the upstairs bedroom. My youngest sister
awakes. My eldest is driving down from her outback home.
She’ll arrive later. My third sister and mother are
crematorium stones, await my visit later in the week.
My wife will call from Providence at 8.00 AM local time,
or so she promised. I feel as if I float just out of reach of all
my women. They're waking, driving, phoning, dead. For a time,
I am who I am without them. Kookaburras laugh at that one.
John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in Paterson Literary Review, Rockhurst Review and Spindrift with work upcoming in New Plains Review, Leading Edge and Louisiana Literature.
ESSAY BY M. J. IUPPA
Consider the diversity of beans: red, black, white, pink, navy, pinto, calico, cranberry, lentils, limas, split & black-eyed peas, eye-of-the-goat— all sides touching in a glass jar, waiting to spill merrily into a chrome colander that sits beneath a gooseneck spray of water. Rinse, rinse, shake, swirl, rinse. Once cleaned, you slid them nonchalantly into a stock pot to soak overnight. Lights out.
By daybreak, you come downstairs to check the pot. Once again, pouring off cloudy water to reveal a mob of beans, plump and ready to be your rainy December recipe that simmers for hours with diced carrots, onions, celery, bay leaves and ham hocks. Its robust smell thickens, reminding you to stir the pot often.
And, you do stir from whatever else you’re doing to check the texture of beans glistening in its bubbling broth. Something magical in the way you hold the spoonful above the pot’s rim— letting tongues of steam curlicue up and away from your close scrutiny. I think you’re a witch, the way you cluck and hiss and fuss with this and that, inventing what will be our bean memory.
Nearly six months have passed since I planted a fistful of 13 beans in our south garden’s appointed rows. The harvest was small this year, not the usual three mesh bags full. Still I love the weight of shucked beans, smooth and glossy, like god’s tears, they gleam with a patience few realize is there.
Imagine a bean that’s more than a bean. When I was a child, my sister bought me jumping beans for Christmas, knowing I would be entertained by three beans, with painted faces and costumes, lying under the heat of our bedroom’s lamp light. “Just wait and see,” she’d say, and I kept my eyes on them as our Motorola played its knee-jiggling rock n’ roll. Within the beats of “The Wah Watusi,” the beans began to shimmy and shake and bounce straight off the night table. I was mesmerized by their excited dance, wishing I could fling my body around the room without breaking anything. They became my prized pets until they hatched.
Too often, we overlook the bean. It was among the first cultivated crops that bound the hunter-gatherers with nomadic people, making them stay put long enough to claim the tilled land as their home. This sense of place became infused with rituals and traditions, creating a cultured existence that forged human know-how, the art of making tools and implements, and the domestication of animals— all of which helped to stabilize their knowledge of agriculture.
Still, despite knowing this since grammar school, when I bend down to plant by hand, bean after bean, I concentrate on imagining the quiet energy found within each seed. A week of days into nights, with just the right amount of comfort: earth, sun, rain nurses them until their spark of light unfurls straight rows of stems and leaves that grow and grow into plants, full and bushy, with delicate purple, yellow and white flowers. Eventually, these plants yield the fat pods of another season’s perfection. This is the promise of beans. They never fail to give back a hundred fold; even the plants’ roots do not deplete the soil in its growing season— always releasing nitrogen rather than using it all up.
Naturally, beans became a part our idiomatic language. Full of beans, not worth a hill of beans, spill the beans, bean counter, down to chili and beans— all of which refer to either emotional or material currency— the highs and lows of being human.
After all, in the story, “Jack and the Beanstalk,” we realize that good fortune eventually follows folly, if one were to stop and think about one’s destiny, which Jack did, when he climbed beyond his world to face the Giant who had what he wanted— a goose that laid golden eggs, a golden lyre that could compose soothing, sleep-inducing melodies, and a jittery, golden haired scullery girl held against her will. Jack came, saw and conquered. On returning home, he had the goods, the fair maid, and his mother’s approval. Jack, I’d say, had it all, and to think it all depended on his impulsive gamble of trading a cow for a pocketful of beans.
When we sit down at the kitchen table, ready to eat steaming bowls of soup, you say it smells beautiful and begin to turn your spoon into its tender ingredients, knowing that this is our
M. J. Iuppa lives on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Her most recent poems have appeared in Poetry East, The Chariton Review, Tar River Poetry, Blueline, The Prose Poem Project, and The Centrifugal Eye, among other publications. Her most recent poetry chapbook is As the Crow Flies (Foothills Publishing, 2008), and her second full-length collection is Within Reach (Cherry Grove Collections, 2010). Between Worlds, a prose chapbook, was published by Foothills Publishing in May 2013. She is Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Visual and Performing Arts Minor program at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York. Her creative nonfiction is included in the collection: In Brief, edited by Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones, (Norton) and in Short Takes edited by Judith Kitchen (Norton).
CLICK HERE for chapter four
TURTLE ISLAND QUARTERLY 8
Jennifer A. McGowan (3 poems), Rodney Nelson (1 poem),
John Grey (1 poem), M.J.Iuppa (1 essay)