THERMOS 10: Two Poems by Hunter Deely

Here are two more poems from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every couple days in the coming month for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.



How to survive in a time of violence


When the child kills his first animal he finds
in himself that inherent concept of God.
The BB moves so slowly he can trace its arc
through air, which is also its trajectory through
his sense of time that never really gets any
longer, as each day added also grows smaller
in relation to the whole. He finds himself enthralled
with the power to take life. And he hates it.
It’s getting dark. And standing in a field at dusk
with a small gun on his shoulder and the smell
of honey purling from the white clumps of
alyssum onto a soft tissue in his nasal cavity
that, without any conscious thought or language
turns one thing into another, he starts to cry
as he finds the still-warm body of the wood thrush
in a pile of oak leaves already being consumed
by ants. And years later, he may remember
the feeling of loss and let it blind him as he stares
into the low sun over the field. Or, he may
forget. He may have to forget. We all do.




Archaeology of Distances


On the low side of the dam in the disused
basin you found a tree whose every
leaf was a live redbird, as you stepped over
buffalo bones and hobo camps into the
uncharted cartography of birds, for whom
this tree of red feathers was the compass
rose.


In this city of highways the roads have defined
the cartography of our eyes and under
flickering streetlamps become the vectors of
our mind’s disease, our history thrown
into relief against a series of bright dots with
long dark space in between, as if from the windows
of a plane. We step from asphalt down into the basin
where gray leaves collect with floodwater, the
whirlpool of forgotten words, the names of animals,
lovers.


It was the cardinal sin, you said,
to pass over a place and not dig and reveal
the framework formed in opposition:
line/space, color/creature, heart/fossil.
You always were an archaeologist at heart
though you sought not what was buried
but how it blossomed in our present age
secretly.


One night you looked at the sky
from a rooftop in Manhattan and saw
with the precision of a raindrop every star
in full flare, and called, your voice rerouted
through a satellite, to tell me your vision
and the path to take into the basin, and up
to the rooftop to see the cardinals’ map
open.


Between a dividing wall and the routes of
migratory birds, the dust in the basin and the
secret life of dying stars in the city you have
shown me how to map my own course as one
layer among many unseen layers. To stop at
the points of intersection like a dowser with
his wand and feel the strands of our lives pile
across one another with the effortless, central
growth of rings into leaves on the cardinal
tree.


THERMOS 10: Two Poems by Hunter Deely

Two poems from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every couple days in the coming month for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.



Old Heat, San Juan Island
                                        for Daisy


Pull the stone softly, and it opens in your hands,
bonfire-cracked, the men who burned it ghosts.
The madrones are tired on this forgotten coast
of black rocks, their hips sway to the salt-tune
on the beach’s teeth. Already the family knows
something is wrong with the boy, he cries each
time he sees a raven drift a storm front’s curve,
or the dark back of a whale burgeon in fog. He
cuts his nose down the middle with flint to make
himself a rabbit and as the blood runs out the colors
fade. At night the mushrooms here all look like eyes.
Our grandmother dies on a February morning and snow
falls on purple hyacinth in the quiet yard. Go
out and gather mushrooms, children. Taste them
like blood in the space of your gums as ash washes
back into the ocean. Strip red the bark as the cleft
in his nose from the face of the Pacific madrone
and rest it on your eyes like a poultice, to leech out
the blood-boils from the black sun on the water. Put
your fingers in the stone and pull softly. For of all
the time-worn rocks on the beach, this one has a story.
It sat at the center of the fire like a monk. It cries every
time the tide goes down as still ash whorls in water.
Amid ghosts rising from the hearts of orcas, a hundred
moons cycle through the teeth of the blood tree. It was
the fissure and ash held this broken stone together.




Blue Hole


Where the water bubbles from the ground,
the headwaters’ tongue runs over limestone
a sound like Spanish missions’ murmurs.


Where I met you at night, in a sliver of forest
leftover from when buffalo used to sleep there,
buried their bones in the banks and dissolved
down into calcium and salt that leeched
into the aquifer and into your beautiful body.


Where pecan trees sip the water in silence,
a path of pebbles runs past your mother’s grave.
A cypress tree planted in her bosom,
the word made incarnate by her body in the earth.


Where the hole in the ground goes on forever
the limestone is split by capillaries filled
by the dark consciousness of mud. Like the hole
at the center of our galaxy, the center of the earth
opens to the air, cut through by mockingbirds,
by the ancient drone of the cicadas, whose shed
exoskeletons fall empty into the blue water.


Where the earth, like a galaxy, turns in on itself,
we draw our water and bury our dead; we stare
into the abyss, toward the magma underneath us,
the buffalo bones, our parent’s bodies and roots.
We see ourselves poised on the thin, transparent blade
of the cicada’s wing, balanced above the river,
knowing that it is from this water we are alive.


THERMOS 10: Hunter Deely, “heart/fossil”

“heart/fossil” comes from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every couple days in the coming month for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.



heart/fossil


how the fossil returns to bone its bits
shed skin it rains fernly upswerving
into a vortex of starlings in shadows


we lost watch them while ponderosa
pollen swims to our knees and dead
wood wild curls into the devil’s toenail


wings of cicadas impressions of leaves
leaving stone spin smokewise toward
sockets and catch your birchbark lips


let the rupture and sub-sequent rush inside
(as we stand on a snail the size of your
chest) my chest emerge backwards


call this fossil Protocardia in Latin
ancestor of the heart whose stoneturned
form beats at a frequency too low


sever the sinew at the umbo of time
from space and return breathwise with me
to the flooded floor of the forest for


once this was the ocean floor and these
cedars were coral and this pollen was krill
and these bugwings and birds are still


phosphorescent worms fed on sulfur and white
light like the pearl at the center of the stone
that has disappeared into the toxic mist


and hold it in (as the water rises to my
hand) your hand till it grows warm
and its shapeshifting returns to dust


and let it fill our lungs for they have no use
here where the devil walks on his nails
in our restless shadows we hold the process
that burns the fossil back in to the heart


THERMOS 10: Two Poems by Hunter Deely

Here are two poems from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every couple days in the coming month for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.



Ghost Dance


At the end of the caliche the cedars
slowdance to ghost dogs howling
will you miss me when I’m gone?
The man and woman who live
in the grey house take in foster children
for a check from the state. At night
Venus and the Moon start to argue
above the blue-skinned trees, the white
road, you will miss me when I’m gone.
An androgynous kid with black glasses
hides in the trees and stares
down the spiral of a .22 barrel,
and the limestone rises through broken
fences like rivers on a map, across
her arms and her chest and up on
to her skinny throat and her breathing
closes up as fossils turn in her eyes.
She watches the grey house from a distance
and dreams stoneward of silence
against death. I am the voyeur
in the tall grass, I am still with fear
that she will see me and turn her gun
on me as blackbirds fly from her mouth.
But she is the paralyzed. Her scarf
of rivers unflowing turns to rust,
and the ghost dogs howl in the yard
of the grey house at the end of the caliche.
The eyes of the orphan sound like a banjo.




In the Land of the Great Goat – Hunt, Texas – May 2008


After the flood the ground is littered with the bodies of dead fish. We walk along the banks of the river still running faster than normal but back within its old bounds and smell the rotting carcasses and the mud churned into algal butter that clings to our boots. We are looking for love inside five acres. At the edge of a grove of cedars we hear a strange cackling sound, like something with wide eyes has been watching us, and look. Look up. The skeleton of a catfish caught in the twigs at the top of a dried up cedar, swaying back and forth in the wind so that each time it leans south it grazes a telephone wire and goes ssshhhzzz . . . ssshhhzzzz. Across the field where the cougar sleeps at night there is a grove of sycamores. Now we can hear the cars from the highway hush past. Approach—like the end of everything built into its beginning. And then, there it is. Perched on the thick, white limb of a sycamore is a billy goat, gnawing the leaves. He seems quite unperturbed by his situation. He stares down at us for a moment with his brown eye bulging, stares straight into our hopped up, drunken, childish, colonized, burnt out, brilliant, love-flooded eye-soul-heart-brain-faces, and then goes back to his meal of wide leaves inscribed with the possible tributaries of a world that will die each autumn. We wonder if we should do something – call the volunteer fire department, perhaps – but he seems quite content. So we lay down and make love at the base of the tree, to the sound of the river and highway. And when we rise again from the earth, the impressions of the smooth riverstones have made red rings on your back.Your skin is a brief map of Venn diagrams, fading, as the river recedes, and in the intersections are other possibilities and disappear as your blood fills back up your skin. We look up at the goat, and he looks back at us, chewing, watching, the closest thing we ever knew to God.


THERMOS 10: Hunter Deely, “Echolocation”

“Echolocation” is a poem from a special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every couple days in the coming month for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.



Echolocation


You sent me an envelope full of leaves and feathers. Egret
feathers. Leaves from a tree they don’t have around
here. Paper postmarked in South Carolina where sharks
                                                                      swim the river.


In the Dr.’s office I reached into my breast


                                (pocket)


to feel the veins
                                                and ridges


that spoke wordlessly like an equation


                                (crickets in the cupboard don’t sing)


A small woman across from me arched her body over the
screen of her phone


at the angle of the back legs of crickets to their wings,


still
                                                                                                        as wood.


And then a tremor burst through her hand. Almost
like fire. Like she had Parkinson’s but
she was not


                              (I don’t think)


the patient.


Patient. She waited for her husband there for three and a half hours.
Never moved but her hand


                              shook
                                                                            and shook.


On the way to the pharmacy I felt an overwhelming urge to have a memory.
Not to remember, but to hold a memory in my hand.


I tried to touch your letter but the envelope was empty. No leaves. No feathers.
Just my name in the center, your name in a corner, and a town I’ve never seen


on a bent piece of paper.


That night I took a pill and dreamt sharks in the windows.


                                                (glass is melted sand laid on still water to cool)


It was quiet but I felt a cricket


                shake


on my chest.


Just enough to release a wave


                                                                through glass
                                                                like waterbirds
                                                                into clouds.


That’s how crickets remember


                                              one


                                  another.


THERMOS 10: Hunter Deely, Corrido Coahuilteco (Notes by Pat Deely)

This poem, and the commentary by Pat Deely, comes from a special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every couple days in the coming month for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.



Corrido Coahuilteco


As we approach the city of black rocks sunflowers
Rise from shoulders


And tiny coal-throated gold-winged warblers
Whirr between stalks.


They jerk their heads at night, like the boys
With tracks on their arms who breathe fire


For loose change, who lead us blindly towards
This border for love and


Money. Checkpoints close in on the road, the vein
At the blood-brain barrier as the eagle


Eats a rattler cut in three by a semi. Tell them we
Are on our way


To a wedding. Move along. Listen. We move. Tell
Me we are in love. We are still


Children rifling down the barrel of time, our eyes
Are sunflowers chasing nirvana


In an industrial field where the bodies of lost
Women decay like uneaten corn.


An eagle’s foot dances from the rearview mirror.
Good luck. Never look back.


We can cross this border once. At a certain angle
Light meets glass and the sun


Is reborn in the empty orb of the talons and dissolves
Before our eyes adjust.


The chaff in the air over the highway, the tires hum
Their corrido softly: No me olvides,


Forget me not for always you will ride over the melody
Of my heart, and my bones


The death I carry inside me like a secret knife
Waiting for release in the hot dust


Of Piedras Negras, Coahuila:
The meaningless


Name of a lost people inscribed as a line through
The desert where the eagles


Live on roadkill and we are brave, and young, and
Hurtling toward a border.




Corrido Coahuilteco


It strikes me that the speaker of this poem is a young man thinking about his girlfriend who he has left behind to find work along the U.S. – Mexico border. In the nature of a lament, the poet bemoans transition of the northern Mexican people from a resourceful indigenous culture to a groveling, industrialized and deathly existence.


The title is composed of the Spanish word “corrido” – a popular type of Mexican narrative song often about oppression, history, daily life for peasants, and other socially important information – and “Coahuilteco,” a Spanish adjective derived from Coahuila that was applied to certain indigenous Indian groups in the mid-19th century. “Coahuila” is from the Nahuatl “Kuahuilan” or “Cuahuilan” meaning “Place of Trees.” Coahuila is the name of a Mexican state that borders Texas and covers an area that – along with what is now south Texas – was an area inhabited by the Coahuiltecan Indians. Ted Ferenbach described the Coahuiltecans as follows in his best seller, Lone Star, A History of Texas and Texans:


“. . . no other species ever used the resources of a country more fully: the Coahuiltecans consumed spiders, ant eggs, lizards, rattlesnakes, worms, insects, rotting wood, and deer dung. . . . . They concocted a drink, mescal, from maguey leaves. . . . The Coahuiltecans also dissolved ground red Texas laurel beans in mescal, and produced real firewater. . . . and from another cactus, peyote, they produced what can only be called a very unusual tea.” [Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1968, p. 14]


During the Spanish colonization of Mexico, a majority of the native Coahuiltecans were displaced by the Spanish advancing from the south and Apaches from the north Texas plains.


The poem opens with the speaker describing the scene as he is arriving at the bordertown city of Piedras Negras the name of which means “black stones” referring to the surrounding massive coal deposits. Piedras Negras and the state of Coahuila have become heavily industrialized through the maquiladora program. Along the roadside, sunflowers rise and Golden-Winged Warblers “whirr” among the sunflower stalks landing on the flower heads to pry loose the nutritious seeds. The sunflower originated in the Americas and was first domesticated in Mexico around 3578 B.C.E. Sunflowers were cultivated as a valuable food source and became the symbol of the Aztec solar deity.


The scene abruptly shifts to street entertainers turned human traffickers carrying the speaker and others to the border “for love and money.” Borders are a common symbol of the frontier between life and death or emotional states where we are close to the “edge” and encounter difficulties trying to move on. “Every major distinction and divide in human experience can be treated as a border, whether separating the present from the past or demarcating life from death.” [“Internal Borders as Naturalized Political Instruments” by Wayne Fife (quoting Oriol Pi-sunyer)] The U.S. – Mexico border generates especially difficult issues for many people given the costly violence that led to its geographical relocation in 1848 and today, of course, due to the vast differences in economic status and opportunities on one side versus the other. The poet uses the concept of crossing the border in this poem as the point at which there is no turning back; the ineluctable march of “civilization” into oblivion.


Continuing along the road, the speaker directs our attention to the “checkpoints” – places where military or police can interrogate you and search your vehicle for alien smuggling, narcotics, or firearms. The checkpoints are likened to veins at the “blood-brain barrier,” which is a layer of high-density cells restricting passage of substances from the bloodstream that protects the brain from bacterial infections. Then, the scene focuses on an eagle eating a rattlesnake cut in thirds by a semi-tractor trailer (symbols of industry destroying the sacred and devouring the divine trinity). In mythology, the eagle often is the sun, its talons lightning. It is an apex predator of the bird world. And snakes figure in myriad mythologies; for example, the Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl, was a feathered serpent. The Coat of Arms of Mexico depicts a Golden Eagle perched on a cactus holding a rattlesnake in its beak and one of its talons. The scene here, however, suggests that the power and glory of the Aztecs and more modern Mexicans symbolized by the eagle has been reduced to that of scavenging.


At the checkpoint, the speaker says to tell the authorities that they are on their way to a “wedding”; a union forced on them by the devolvement of Mexican civilization. So, they “move along” as the speaker asks his girlfriend to “Tell me we are in love.” But they really don’t know love because they are “still children rifling down the barrel of time” like bullets to certain destruction; their eyes like sunflowers following the sun chasing a state of transcendence from bondage to being free from suffering – nirvana. This “nirvana”, though, coexists with an industrial field where “lost women decay like uneaten corn”; an allusion to the 21st century narco deaths of women left in fields along the U.S. – Mexican border towns. The metaphorical reference to “uneaten corn” continues to underscore the vast distance between modern day Mexicans and their ancestors. Corn, or maize, was developed somewhere in Mexico thousands of years ago and was central to those peoples’ culture. In Aztec mythology, Centeotl was the maize diety, considered one of the most important, and Chicomecoatl was his female counterpart.


As the speaker is moving along, he notes a “good luck” talisman – an eagle’s foot – hanging from the rearview mirror, but we are admonished to “Never look back.” An ominous warning mirroring the admonition of Hades to Orpheus who was allowed to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, from the Underworld, but as he led her back to the Upper World could not look back at her without risk of terminating her release. We also are admonished that “We can cross this border once” because once you cross over there really is no turning back. A momentary glimpse of regeneration is presented as the poet describes a flash of sunlight through the once magnificent eagle’s foot, but it is just a flash.


Through litter – “chaff” – driven skyward over the highway by industrial progress we hear the modern day corrido as the hum of fast moving vehicle tires rolling onward. To the speaker, the corrido sings “No me olvides” – Forget me not – but the speaker acknowledges that he is on a certain path to a meaningless death like the long forgotten Coahuiltecans, where once mighty eagles now “live on roadkill” and the young people move in only one direction: “Hurtling towards a border.”


–Pat Deely


THERMOS 10: Two Poems by Hunter Deely

Two poems from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every couple days in the coming month for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.



the magnificent violence of birds


Some things mark you.


A dove in the jaws of a rattlesnake, the white
halo of feathers and the astounding


stillness as the two bones worked
the body down.


Pinned the neck with a cedar branch and cut it
with a dull axe.


Dropped the head and rattle in a mason jar with salt.


Some music in the scales’ pattern. How eyes
clip the evening light at the edge of the field,


and we turn in their gaze, sick
with dove meat and dry corn, how to set a blade


to flesh gets the blood thick in your arms.


From the radio tower we saw the city
like a yellow rose browning at the edges.


We saw redbirds vomit
white blood on a forest of invasive species.


Some years later I was on a train through Mississippi,
birds in the pine trees watched me pass


through a strange hill country, as I thought back to
the garden offset by stones in the woods,


how we stuck the feathers in our pores and climbed
the tower to see if the signal would carry us


with the poison bitter in our mouths, to our common
dream of safe passage


through the bird, into the snake.




the magnificent violence of birds


A bird on corroded tires.
Burning clover,               blue
                beach where birds go
when they sleep.


The logic of the swerve, to be / guided
by the chance of your
                              body detecting
      the echo of waves / on rising […]


We sleep in the dredging tower
laid on its side in the river, distant
                smoke. Look up
                                now. See—the space collapses.


                The insects all
      extend from a single body.


The cartwheeling girls
in the clover trying to forget […] / Leaves


unfurling from the rusty generator in sand.


Two bells tolling at the same time.


The same time.


Two bells unfurling,
one long


                O


                O


[…] Watch the insects through glass,
through a certain peace / staring up
                from the junkyard, disappears,
that is, to unexist,


one leaves unfurling
from a bell


echo of a shadow


                O


a dead bird in the waves.


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