Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Poems: "Incubus" -- by Craig Arnold

The chain uncouples, and his jacket hangs
on the peg over hers, and he's inside.  

She stalls in the kitchen, putting the kettle on,  
buys herself a minute looking for two  
matching cups for the lime-flower tea,  
not really lime but linden, heart-shaped leaves  
and sticky flowers that smell of antifreeze.  
She talks a wall around her, twists the string  
tighter around the tea bag in her spoon.  
But every conversation has to break  
somewhere, and at the far end of the sofa  
he sits, warming his hands around the cup  
he hasn't tasted yet, and listens on  
with such an exasperating show of patience  
it's almost a relief to hear him ask it:  
If you're not using your body right now
maybe you'd let me borrow it for a while?

It isn't what you're thinking. No, it's worse.  

Why on earth did she find him so attractive  
the first time she met him, propping the wall  
at an awkward party, clearly trying to drink  
himself into some sort of conversation?  
Was it the dark uncomfortable reserve  
she took upon herself to tease him out of,  
asking, Are you a vampire? That depends,  
he stammered, are you a virgin? No, not funny,  
but why did she laugh at him? What made her think  
that he needed her, that she could teach him something?  
Why did she let him believe she was drunk  
and needed a ride home? Why did she let him  
take her shirt off, fumble around a bit  
on the spare futon, passing back and forth  
the warm breath of a half-hearted kiss  
they kept falling asleep in the middle of?  
And when he asked her, why did she not object?  
I'd like to try something. I need you to trust me.  

Younger and given to daydreams, she imagined  
trading bodies with someone, a best friend,  
the boy she had a crush on. But the fact  
was more fantastic, a fairy-tale adventure  
where the wolf wins, and hides in the girl's red hood.  
How it happens she doesn't really remember,  
drifting off with a vague sense of being  
drawn out through a single point of her skin,  
like a bedsheet threaded through a needle's eye,
and bundled into a body that must be his.  

Sometimes she startles, as on the verge of sleep  
you can feel yourself fall backward over a brink,  
and snaps her eyelids open, to catch herself  
slipping out of the bed, her legs swinging  
over the edge, and feels the sudden sick  
split-screen impression of being for a second  
both she and her.  
                              What he does with her  
while she's asleep, she never really knows,  
flickers, only, conducted back in dreams:  
Walking in neighborhoods she doesn't know  
and wouldn't go to, overpasses, ragweed,  
cars dry-docked on cinderblocks, wolf-whistles,  
wanting to run away and yet her steps  
planted sure and defiant. Performing tasks  
too odd to recognize and too mundane  
to have made up, like fixing a green salad  
with the sunflower seeds and peppers that she hates,  
pouring on twice the oil and vinegar  
that she would like, and being unable to stop.  
Her hands feel but are somehow not her own,  
running over the racks of stacked fabric  
in a clothing store, stroking the slick silk,  
teased cotton and polar fleece, as if her fingers  
each were a tongue tasting the knits and weaves.  
Harmless enough.  
                              It's what she doesn't dream  
that scares her, panic she can't account for, faces  
familiar but not known, déjà vu  
making a mess of memory, coming to  
with a fresh love-bite on her left breast  
and the aftershock of granting another's flesh,  
of having gripped, slipped in and fluttered tender  
mmm, unbraided, and spent the whole slow day  
clutching her thighs to keep the chafe from fading,  
and furious at being joyful, less  
at the violation, less the danger, than the sense  
he'd taken her enjoyment for his own.  
That was the time before, the time she swore  
would be the last—returning to her senses,  
she'd grabbed his throat and hit him around the face  
and threw him out, and sat there on the floor  
shaking. She hadn't known how hard it was  
to throw a punch without pulling it back.  

Now, as they sit together on her couch  
with the liquid cooling in the stained chipped cups  
that would never match, no matter how hard  
she stared at them, he seems the same as ever,  
a quiet clumsy self-effacing ghost  
with the gray-circled eyes that she once wanted  
so badly to defy, that seemed to see her  
seeing him—and she has to admit, she's missed him.  
Why? She scrolls back through their conversations,  
searching for any reason not to hate him.  
She'd ask him, What's it like being a girl  
when you're not a girl? His answers, when he gave them,  
weren't helpful, so evasively poetic:  
It's like a sponge somebody else is squeezing.
A radio tuned to all stations at once.
Like having skin that's softer but more thick.

Then she remembers the morning she awoke  
with the smear of tears still raw across her cheeks  
and the spent feeling of having cried herself  
down to the bottom of something. Why was I crying?  
she asked, and he looked back blankly, with that little  
curve of a lip that served him for a smile.  
Because I can't.
                              And that would be their secret.  
The power to feel another appetite  
pass through her, like a shudder, like a cold  
lungful of oxygen or hot sweet smoke,  
fill her and then be stilled. The freedom to fall  
asleep behind the blinds of his dark body  
and wake cleanly. And when she swings her legs  
over the edge of the bed, to trust her feet  
to hit the carpet, and know as not before  
how she never quite trusted the floor  
to be there, no, not since she was a girl  
first learning to swim, hugging her skinny  
breastless body close to the pool-gutter,  
skirting along the dark and darker blue  
of the bottom dropping out—
                              Now she can stand,  
and take the cup out of his giving hand,  
and feel what they have learned inside each other  
fair and enough, and not without a kind  
of satisfaction, that she can put her foot  
down, clear to the bottom of desire,  
and find that it can stop, and go no deeper.

*     *     *     *     *

Craig Arnold taught poetry at the University of Wyoming and published two books of poetry--Shells (1999) and Made Flesh (2008)--before his untimely death in 2009. He earned his BA from Yale University and his PhD in creative writing from the University of Utah.

Arnold won the 2005 Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize Fellowship in literature, The Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, an Alfred Hodder Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, an NEA fellowship, and a MacDowell Fellowship. 

While traveling in Japan, Arnold went missing on a solo hike. His body was never recovered and he was assumed to have died from a fatal fall.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Charles Finn and 'Wild Delicate Seconds'

In twenty-nine micro-essays that border on prose poems, Charles Finn captures chance encounters with the everyday—and not so everyday—animals, birds, and insects of North America.

There are no maulings or fantastic escapes in Finn’s narratives—only stillness and attentiveness to beauty. With profundity, humor, grace, and compassion, Finn pays homage to the creatures that share our world—from black bears to bumble bees, mountain lions to muskrats—and, in doing so, touches on what it means to be human.

Wild Delicate Seconds will appeal to both trained and casual wildlife observers; to birders, hikers, conservationists, ecologists, and naturalists; and to readers of American nature writers such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Barry Lopez, Annie Dillard, and Mary Oliver.

"Wild Delicate Seconds is an exquisite read, full of small surprises with big heartbeats. Finn's stories are warbler-sized. They cut through the air of the mind like flames."  —Gretel Ehrlich, author of The Solace of Open Spaces and The Future of Ice

"These brief meditations are as beautiful for what they donʼt say as for what they do. Charles Finn does not pad, overreach, or over-emote. His precision accounts of wildlife encounters summon awe, wonder, and magnificence when those feelings are authentically present, but just as readily summon comedy if the encounter was, as Edward Hoagland once put it, 'like meeting a fantastically dressed mute on the road.' These are not fleeting glances: they are full-on full-bodied face-to-face invocations of the way animals and birds 'speak out by saying precisely nothing,' uncannily propelling us into 'the exact place where the world begins.'"  —David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and My Story as Told by Water

You can hear Charles Finn talk about and read from Wild Delicate Seconds on the following public radio stations, or listen online.

 Find out more about Charles Finn.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Monday Poems: "Huckleberries" -- by Edith Miniter

Once a great sorrow assailed me
And I went and picked huckleberries.
Thud, with little thuds they struck the bottom of the pail.

I remember the day, a day of brazen sunshine.
The shameless sky had put off every shred of mist,
Naked it arched, and mockingly,
For my beauty was not hers, and she had been naked and shameless.
But huckleberry bushes crept soothingly over the pasture,
Hiding all, and partly hiding sun-warmed rocks
That in their turn wore lichens, lichens for hiding.

*     *     *     *    *

Edith Miniter was a writer who lived 100 years ago. The above poem was published in 1923. A collection of her work can be found in the publication Dead Houses and Other Works

Upon her passing, H.P. Lovecraft commented: "It is difficult to realise that Mrs. Miniter is no longer a living presence; for the sharp insight, subtle wit, rich scholarship, and vivid literary force so fresh in one's memory are things savouring of the eternal and the indestructible. Of her charm and kindliness many will write reminiscently and at length. Of her genius, skill, courage, and determination, her work and career eloquently speak."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Alan S. Kesselheim, author of 'Let Them Paddle: Coming of Age on the Water'

When paddlers Alan S. Kesselheim and his wife were starting their family, each of their three kids unintentionally experienced, before birth, a major river expedition. Later, Eli, Sawyer, and Ruby grew up on other river trips, joining the Kesselheims in canoes as infants and toddlers and becoming adept paddlers and campers before the age of ten.

Recognizing a unique opportunity to celebrate their childrens' transitions to adulthood, the family returned to those "birth" rivers and repeated each of the three original paddling trips. Over a period of four years, as each child reached the age of thirteen, and across a span of geography from the Arctic Circle to Mexico, the family of five shared inspirational travel adventures on the water.

A moving testimonial for allowing children to experience nature firsthand, Let Them Paddle is a captivating tale of a family coming of age. And an inspiration for coming-of-age celebrations — of any kind.

Find out more about Alan Kesselheim and
listen to the program online.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Monday Poems -- "Summer near the River" -- by Carolyn Kizer

themes from the Tzu Yeh and the Book of Songs

I have carried my pillow to the windowsill
And try to sleep, with my damp arms crossed upon it,
But no breeze stirs the tepid morning.
Only I stir ... Come, tease me a little!
With such cold passion, so little teasing play,
How long can we endure our life together?

No use. I put on your long dressing-gown;
The untied sash trails over the dusty floor.
I kneel by the window, prop up your shaving mirror
And pluck my eyebrows.
I don’t care if the robe slides open
Revealing a crescent of belly, a tan thigh.
I can accuse that nonexistent breeze ...

I am as monogamous as the North Star,
But I don’t want you to know it. You’d only take advantage.
While you are as fickle as spring sunlight.
All right, sleep! The cat means more to you than I.
I can rouse you, but then you swagger out.
I glimpse you from the window, striding toward the river.

When you return, reeking of fish and beer,
There is salt dew in your hair. Where have you been?
Your clothes weren’t that wrinkled hours ago, when you left.
You couldn’t have loved someone else, after loving me!
I sulk and sigh, dawdling by the window.
Later, when you hold me in your arms
It seems, for a moment, the river ceases flowing.

* * * * *

Carolyn Kizer's poetry often considers feminist and political themes. She has published nine books of poetry, including Yin (1984), which won the Pulitzer Prize, and the collection Cool, Calm and Collected, in which the above poem appears. She has taught and served as poet-in-residence at universities across the country. Kizer was born in Spokane, Washington, and currently lives in Sonoma, California, and Paris.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kim Barnes, author of 'In the Kingdom of Men'

Here is the first thing you need to know about me:  I’m a barefoot girl from red-dirt Oklahoma, and all the marble floors in the world will never change that.

Here is the second thing:  that young woman they pulled from the Arabian shore, her hair tangled with mangrove—my husband didn’t kill her, not the way they say he did.

1967. Gin Mitchell knows a better life awaits her when she marries hometown hero Mason McPhee. Raised in a two-room shack by her Oklahoma grandfather, a strict Methodist minister, Gin never believed that someone like Mason, a handsome college boy, the pride of Shawnee, would look her way. And nothing can prepare her for the world she and Mason step into when he takes a job with the Arabian American Oil company in Saudi Arabia. In the gated compound of Abqaiq, Gin and Mason are given a home with marble floors, a houseboy to cook their meals, and a gardener to tend the sandy patch out back. Even among the veiled women and strict laws of shariah, Gin’s life has become the stuff of fairy tales. She buys her first swimsuit, she pierces her ears, and Mason gives her a glittering diamond ring. But when a young Bedouin woman is found dead, washed up on the shores of the Persian Gulf, Gin’s world closes in around her, and the one person she trusts is nowhere to be found.

Set against the gorgeously etched landscape of a country on the cusp of enormous change, In the Kingdom of Men abounds with sandstorms and locust swarms, shrimp peddlers, pearl divers, and Bedouin caravans—a luminous portrait of life in the desert. Award-winning author Kim Barnes weaves a mesmerizing, richly imagined tale of Americans out of their depth in Saudi Arabia, a marriage in peril, and one woman’s quest for the truth, no matter what it might cost her.

In the Kingdom of Men was inspired by Kim Barnes' aunt and uncle, who lived in Saudi Arabia for many years. During this week's program she talks about them, as well as some of the astounding facts she discovered during the years she spent doing research for the novel. She'll also read a passage from the book.

Listen to the program on the radio or online.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Monday Poems: "Pantoum" -- by Sasha Steensen

Perhaps the universe is an extinguished building
with blue banners strung along
and the forest, more like a commodity
bordering bushes and asphalt,

something else to string our blue banners on.
Never was restoration swifter:
the leafless trees, the asphalt
less splintered and more splendid.

Never was restoration swifter
with its mightier solutions,
less splintered and more splendid
snipers, dynamiters, colorful bombs.

We please ourselves with mightier solutions,
picnics under blue spruces
snipers, dynamiters, colorful bombs
the guardians of what we might call “home rights.”

At picnics, under blue spruces
we clamor after the news
and its employees, the guardians of “home rights”
“the media” mustering “one mind.”

It’s news,
the decision to nobly save rather than meanly lose
some pretense of mustering “one mind”
secures its truth.

The decision to nobly save rather than meanly lose
our flag
secures its truth
as a squirrel secures its nuts by hiding them in the ground.

Our flag—
a souvenir of having been here before
a squirrel’s nuts, deep in the ground.
But travel, travail, and The Method’s mistakes

all souvenirs of having been here before,
haunt us and taunt us and call us names.
But travail, travel, and Method’s mistakes
mark a different season, nuts rotting, bulbs blooming.

Each season haunts us and taunts us and calls us names
until finally the universe is an extinguished building,
a different season, nuts rotting, bulbs blooming
and the forest, a commodity.

*     *     *     *     *
Sasha Steensen is the author of several collections of poetry, including the forthcoming House of Deer (2013), A Magic Book (2004), which won the Alberta DuPont Bonsal Prize, and The Method (2008), in which the above poem appears. 

Steenson grew up in Las Vegas and is now a professor at Colorado State University, where she is also co-editor of Bonfire Press.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sheryl Noethe, Monana's Poet Laureate

Montana's last Poet Laureate, Henry Real Bird, rode a horse across the Hi-Line, talking to people and handing out books of his poetry.

But Sheryl Noethe, the current Poet Laureate, has a different mode of transportation. "I decided that I would be the Greyhound Bus Poet Laureate." And she sits in the back of the buses, "with the fun guys," exactly where her husband told her not to sit.

During this week's program, Noethe will read several new poems she wrote about people on buses, which were published in issue #10 of the Whitefish Review. Also published in that issue, the transcript of a conversation between Noethe, David Allen Cates, and two WR editors.

Find out more about Sheryl Noethe and her poetry and listen to the program on the radio or online.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Monday Poems: "By the Lake" -- Richard O. Moore

Past year are figures in old glass
wobbly in a lake
wrinkled by a stone.

The lake will settle down
a face will reappear
in a scent of evergrenn.

Years are present as noon as now
or in a rippled moonglade night;
they summon shadow as in fragile memory
easy as stepping into a lake
breaking the present mirror.

It is the way events are stored.
they come back twisted in wrinkles of water

blurred inscapes into today.

*     *     *     *     *

Richard O. Moore, now 92, is a poet, filmmaker, and seminal figure in public radio and television. Moore belonged to the San Francisco Renaissance literary circle of Kenneth Rexroth in the 1940s and 1950s, a precursor of the Beat poetry movement. "By the Lake" was published in his collection, Writing the Silences, his second book.