|From a Line by Jack Gilbert
The Chinese say,
When you write a river, you are the river.
But today I am more the rain
rinsing the river’s ruddy throat.
Or yesterday’s sun, trying to swallow
some dark delay between my four o’clock
curtains. Mornings can be a ground
to lay our sorrows upon – a hard gift –
a tree trunk of a thing
where the past surges up like a fountain
and cascades at our feet.
It floods the world.
The one we step into.
The one we walk out of.
"From a Line by Jack Gilbert" appeared in the 2016 edition of Porter Gulch Review.
Two young girls, thin as reeds,
wade into the pond,
red plastic pails and auburn braids
leaning into their small shadows
mirrored by shallow water,
pointing and playing
with minnows and crayfish - today’s delight
to capture a living thing
smaller than themselves
so few things being smaller than
a young girl with a pail at a pond.
Watching them, I lean on the soft shoulder
of memory, of being raised by water,
soul-soaked in ponds, lakes, quarries and rivers,
some that claimed classmates’ lives,
who for love of flying above their shadows
jumped onto reckless rope swings of darkness
daring to come up victors, immortal, alive.
Mine was a small town tucked
between four vivid seasons,
between the city and the shore,
nothing much to do but risk
your life some way or another
to feel alive. I did it too, from one summer
to the next, dove into black lakes well past dark
and floated fully naked with open arms
to the night sky, tried to make the stars glisten
on my skin the way they did on the water’s surface,
dance and glisten and perhaps take a little of me
with them as they moved across the sky. Why not
join the symphony of starlight, try to touch
the eternal? Life, we heard, was short,
childhood shorter, and I wanted to have mine
the way these young girls want
to take home the minnows and crayfish
and keep them, their secret,
if for no other reason
than to claim for themselves a small life ,
something mysterious as water or night,
as I did, in that small town, which I knew
was only a freckle on the face of the whole universe.
"Minnows" appeared in the 2016 edition of Porter Gulch Review.
In my kitchen the young man from Japan
cooks his first meal in America.
Oil and sauce splattered everywhere.
Stove so different in Japan!
Each sun older than the last
more rife with beauty.
Bonnard’s blue tree
Ladies in French hats
Nudes dropping towels
to the floor – what more
The world of New England is in that house…It is the doorway
of the sea to me.
I am not in search of pretty things
but of what is true
which is why the Olson house
full of must and grime
seasons of salt air and wood
smoke smudged on the kitchen walls
speaks to me.
I never ask what I paint
to be beautiful –
only that it be.
Against the crackling ruin of this house
time never stops exhaling the past.
The eternal wind sweeps
past the gridded windows
and nestles there, making the old house
breathe all the more.
I painted Christina in the grass
outside the great slanted house
not as a cripple,
but as a woman of dignity
reaching perhaps toward eternity.
Today she rests behind my grave
far from where she crouched
on that sloping hill
that comes up from the sea.
|Speaking to the Dead
Tell me of your travels
since last we met
when we walked down by the river
and pondered the future.
Remember the river?
Now that you’re in that place of answers
relieve me of the what if’s and I wish
I had’s,, burdens of the living who
day after day, year after year
hide their questions behind shirt collars
and wander the streets of I don’t know.
But then, who am I to ask anything
of you. You went first, ahead of me,
and now there is nothing but silence
and my longing asking that you
stay. Wait. Walk with me again
by the river.
|The Unnamable Thing
“… a good portrait is the abstract of the person;
it is not the likeness for actual comparison,
but for recollection.”
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The mirror with a slant
a songbird waking
the disregarded tear
before and after.
How the light fell or rose
the scent of a stranger passing
on a dark road
a wind that picks up then lets down.
How do we know it’s there?
Because it comes to us.
It asks to be re-made
and the artist says, Yes.
“Open your eyes and see what you can with them
before they close forever.”
— Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
In the novel, the blind girl’s father
makes her a miniature wood replica of Paris.
Her small fingertips scale the heights
of cathedrals and chimneys,
alley ways and stone streets
so that when she must
she will know
how to navigate the city on her own.
When the Nazis steal her father away
she hears his words
in the vowels of the wind.
Paris rain sweeps across the city.
Clusters of blackbirds waken her
as they lift off. She sets out.
In Ray Carver’s story
a blind man teaches
a sighted man to see.
The wife leaves the men
alone at the kitchen table,
the men who are strangers,
her husband afraid to enter
the other’s dark. In silence,
on one sheet of paper
they draw a cathedral
in pencil and ink, a silent
It is true what they say.
Love is blind.
What darkens this world
is too little of it.
Rain comes again
pulls sky to earth
mother to child
a comfort, a wound.
From the window upstairs
it appears ghostly
a riotous wrong
yet, can nature
If anything is, wrong,
it’s us, reaching
for cover from cold.
In the ink wet dark
the children next door
flip on flashlights,
race from one side of the house
to the other, dart
across their bedroom floor
in a rush to splash and fall
to become pieces of the rain.
It is a game they will remember.
By morning, the sky has cleared.
The children sulk walking past
my house on their way to school,
still gripping flashlights, imitating
the sounds of rain.
Maybe tonight, the eldest whispers
into the ear of his little sister,
the rain will come again!
Maggie Paul is the author of Borrowed World , a collection of poems published by Hummingbird Press, and the chapbook, Stones from the Basket of Others (Black Dirt Press). Her work has appeared in the Catamaran Literary Reader, Rattle, Hill Tromper, The Monterey Poetry Review, Poetry Miscellany, the Drexel University Journal, Porter Gulch Review, and Phren-Z. She earned an MA at Tufts University and her MFA at Vermont College. Currently Maggie teaches writing at Cabrillo College. She lives in Santa Cruz.
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