Poetry Friday: “In Tandem”

a blurry shot of a rim of the top of tree branches on the bottom of the image, with a giant white sun sending rays out from the center of a black sky, rimmed with a halo of light.Here is a poem that takes aim at our clichés about aging and death. It does so with subtle cleverness, by putting “in tandem” an old spruce tree and the nursing home resident to whom the poem is addressed. Though there’s no stanza break, the poem divides into two parts, each of nine lines. The first part is all negatives: the clichés (like “it had a good life”) that we would not apply to the tree if it toppled over dead. The second part is all positives: how we “would have marveled” at the “pale corona of roots, / like arms uplifted and exposed.” The tree is anthropomorphized here: its uplifted arms make it more human than the nursing home resident of Part One. And more full of rich life: “we would have breathed in / earth smells and the inner life of the tree.” The poem’s final three lines again contrast the responses to the toppled tree versus the nursing home patient. The imagined tree evokes in the speaker and patient a “curious” scurrying happiness, while they know that any “small talk” of the patient’s “recovery” is fantasy. This is a poem that seems simple in its accessibility, yet it draws me into meditation on the ways our culture thinks about human frailty and mortality.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “I Am Poured Out Like Water”

6712511817_1621527225_zWhat attracts me to this poem is something deliberately absent yet evocatively present: baptism in a river. Starting from the very first line—during monastic prayer, the speaker’s mis-chanting “Lord’s forever” as “Lord’s river”—rivers are central to each vignette. There’s the creek where, as a kid, the speaker “took a girl down to the river to play—not pray”: that teasing echo of the song about river baptism. There’s the deer he then killed, stumbling “toward the Smith River”: its death “brought the Lord by the water.” There’s the speaker and his Dad fly-fishing, with the memory of his Dad as close to “a saint.” And finally, there’s the barge breaking up ice on the Hudson River outside the monastery as Matins is chanted. All these river images bring us close to the sanctifying water of baptism—close, but not quite there. Yet in a marvelously mysterious way, our baptism into Christ’s life and death is at the poem’s core.

-Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Fifty Shores of Grief

I write this the evening of June 12, 2016, the day forty-nine people died in the worst mass public shooting in recent US history.

A few hours before hundreds of people faced unspeakable terror, my husband and I finished the first season of Justified, a series about Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a U.S. Marshal who returns to his hometown of Harlan, KY, to help root out the bad guys. Sure, he gets a little trigger happy at times, but he feels “justified” in his attacks. The audience usually agrees.

I like the show. It’s entertaining and witty, and Olyphant sulks adorably under his cowboy hat.

The Season 1 finale, appropriately called “Bulletville,” reaches a body count of at least a dozen, including one man, Johnny, shot by super bad guy Bo in a sudden act of revenge. He flips back over the porch railing and lies in the shrubbery, stunned, clutching his stomach as he bleeds out the rest of his short life. [Read more…]

I Found Him at Subway

By John Bryant

subwayI found him at Subway, an old man in a brown jacket, boots, jogging pants, standing in the small space between the table and deli counter.

He shut his eyes so he could hide himself under them, in a place where the cold and his age couldn’t find him. Eyes closed tight so he wouldn’t fall out of his eyes and land in the Subway, in his body, like a fish flopping in a bucket. There was no one else there. I stood in the silence he’d made in the room.

His face relaxed as he fell all the way into himself, the only place inside him that was bigger and quieter than the restaurant and his entire life. It was his peace.

He stood under a jet of warm air when the Subway heater came on. He lifted his face toward the ceiling as the warm air pulled the damp out of his coat and asked him gently to return to who he was when he was eighty and dirty and in a Subway. His lips searched the heat until they became a smile. He opened his eyes and found me looking at him. [Read more…]

The Beautiful Attitudes

By Dyana Herron

2956313375_8e911e6a09_mI clearly remember the last day of being nine. I stood in front of my house on the porch, its cement stained from summer, when my brother and I felt through the thick fur of our chow chows for fat ticks that we plucked, shook off, then smashed with rocks.

On the last day of being nine, I stood on the stained cement crying. I was upset because although the next day was my birthday and would bring all the extravagances of a birthday, I would be turning ten.

As in, going from a one-digit age number to a two-digit age number. And I realized I wasn’t likely to reach the three-digits. [Read more…]