Odd Northern Indiana

Michigan DunesRoute 41 takes you along the coast of Lake Michigan out of Chicago. If you are trying to stay close to the lake, then veer off Route 41 at Whiting and tack southeast onto Route 20. That’s where the landscape takes a turn toward oddness.

You’re between Chicago, Illinois and Gary, Indiana. Those excited by intellectually fashionable terms would call this area a “liminal space.” It is a hazy, indeterminate quasi-urban wasteland shot through with train tracks and industrial properties, some functioning and some long ago abandoned to the elements, steel and iron rusting slowly as the wind and the sun and the rain do their work, season upon season.

There are people here. They live in pocketed neighborhoods squished between fields of gasoline silos, generating plants, and graveyards for dead and dying railroad cars, old trucks, unidentifiable machines sinking inch-by-inch into the earth. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Middle Distance, Morning” by Margaret Gibson

Fall LeavesI read this poem as a meditation on how one can relate to the outside world without needing to possess it. A poem on how to let go: to connect beyond oneself without clutching. Here, the outside world is that of nature, which the poem’s speaker recounts her relation to. Partly it’s a relation of hushed watching and listening, the discipline of “doing nothing” while yet “poised for a flash from the Absolute.” Partly it’s a graced sense of suspension, of being “blessed by uncertainty.” Partly it’s the recognition that her own imagination might be “a fling / of slim thread,” casting out over “the living world,” so that she’s unable to speak of this world without her  imagination’s aid. She settles on the “middle distance” as the right point for her imagination’s gaze, because at this distance she can comfortably see “the maple rising from its bright ground.” At this distance she needn’t worry whether or not there’s an “edge” further out, beyond her knowing. The speaker’s gratitude for this, and for living “in the midst of all my relations,” is confirmed by the calming iambic pentameter beat which steadies the poem’s opening and closing lines, each imaging autumn leaves in their own letting go: “spindling” or “spinning” in their own relaxed naturalness.

— Peggy Rosenthal


Middle Distance, Morning by Margaret Gibson

One by one leaves spindle in the wind,
the clock runs down, the cricket’s
chirr continues. Each year I try
to catch the moment the chirring ceases
and silence takes on its winter timbre.
Each year I miss. Doing nothing,
poised for a flash from the Absolute,
awaiting rest from unrest,
I’m blessed by uncertainty,
steadied more by loss than by the snare
of an embellished self-possession.
And no, I’m not lonely, No one, not
in the midst of all my relations,
as an old woman called the living world
around her, from quark to cairn,
from stone to a flash of wings
in the updraft. The grass is wet, and mist
rises wherever the sunlight falls.
The maple rising from its bright ground
in middle distance
is a shapely fluidity that anchors
a shining web to woodbine and one
branch of a yearling crabapple.
Perhaps imagination’s only a fling
of slim thread, so that Mind can walk
its own tightrope, also the heart—
in Chinese the word for mind
and the word for heart is the same.
Just now, the light shifts, and the web’s
no longer visible from where I sit.
Across the pond the woods are
a darkness, a depth, a distance
beyond the edge of knowing, I write.
But there is no edge
unless I make one. In middle distance,
a red leaf finds a way
to spin in its own orbit. Now, a gold.

 

Margaret Gibson is the author of eleven books of poetry and one prose memoir, most recently Broken Cup and Second Nature (both from Louisiana State). Her awards include the Lamont Selection for Poetry, the Melville Kane Award, the Connecticut Book Award in Poetry, and two Pushcarts. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award and is professor emerita of the University of Connecticut.

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Poetry Friday: “Creed in the Santa Ana Winds” by Bronwen Butter Newcott

Bronwen Poetry Friday Pic 2Growing up in southern California, I experienced the uneasy allure of the Santa Ana’s hot fall and winter winds that swept down from Nevada’s Great Basin. They whipped up the dust and screamed against the windowpanes. In the drier mountain areas, they ignited fires; in my coastal town, they seemed to blow the stars through the air. As legendary as the full moon, the winds sparked dangers physical and fantastical. Did the fault lines lose their grip in the heat of these gales? Did we? In “Creed in the Santa Ana Winds,” Bronwen Butter Newcott captures—or, shall I say, chases—the fury of the Santa Ana’s in the shadow of an even more powerful, and incalculable, Creator. Her exacting imagery blows those winds through my soul again, two decades after I left.

—Tania Runyan


Creed in the Santa Ana Winds by Bronwen Butter Newcott

You believe He’s stronger than the desert wind
butting against the fence, wind that ignites sagebrush,
tears through the hills and strips the houses to ash.

Despite your lips that crack till blood comes,
skin that grows rough between your fingers,
you believe He will be solid to your touch

the way the bay is slate each dusk, broken only by fish
that hurl themselves toward the pearling sky.
The wind that takes a voice in the night

makes the house uneasy, shouts as the fence flattens.
You stand watching the junipers thrash and knit pleas
into the darkness; you believe He hears. In the morning,

there are six dead kittens on the driveway, a cat
moaning beneath the house. You pick them up by the neck
and put them in the trash. One day, you believe,

God will blow this all down, skin the world
to dust and water and make something new, but for now,
the noise of trees thrashed and cracked covers the ground.

 

Bronwen Butter Newcott grew up in Washington, DC. After completing her MFA, she moved to southern California with her husband where she taught high school, art journal workshops, and had her first two children. She now lives in the DC area with her family. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Smartish Pace, Poet Lore, and other publications.

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Detroit: The Reality of Death and the Reality of Life

Street lightsAt night, through the mottled glass of a door that leads out onto the roof of the building, a red light flashes on, then off, on, then off. It is like a scene from an early fifties’ noir movie. A seedy part of town. A motel. A neon sign flashing with an advertisement for “Girls, Girls, Girls” or “Booze, Booze, Booze.”

In fact, the flashing red light isn’t from a sign. It is a streetlight. It is flashing red because this is Detroit, and in Detroit there isn’t enough traffic in many parts of town to warrant the full traffic light cycle of green to yellow to red.

Why sit there in your car, at an empty intersection, staring at the abandoned buildings all around you, waiting for the light to change from red to green? No reason to do it. So the city started switching some of the lights to flashing red or yellow, effectively turning them into stop signs, or caution markers. [Read more…]

My Soul Thirsts

10935610953_ecff276a2d_zMy children’s Michigan fact book says you can’t go more than eight miles without hitting water in this state, but it must be less this far north. I imagine the land shifting and disappearing beneath my feet as it does at the shoreline, except I’m standing in my kitchen.

“You’re basically living on a big dune,” a woman says when I mention my back pain. I thought I’d pulled something lifting moving boxes, but she says transplants often complain of chronic pain. We go rigid trying to find our sea legs. [Read more…]


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