Archive for the ‘From the Magazine’ Category

THERMOS 5: Laura Walker

This week, THERMOS is running a feature of Laura Walker’s poetry, assembled by Cassie Donish. These poems, from the collection bird book, first appeared in THERMOS 5. Please check back throughout the week for more poems, and an interview.

                                                                                eastern kingbird

we saw him walking down from the store

coal headed

to be seldom visible

give in a series


near water

                                                                                prothonotary warbler

half of numerous

we were dark         prominent

              two boys in the backseat

              large white peaches

                                                                      to call


                                                                      an only tree


    sluggish or stagnant

or water

                                                                                mourning dove

she awaits a violent body

our more abundant

the larger       a small

                                          ask him to come in

                                                                                eastern phoebe

he followed her through the store

darkest head

told from

and out into the street

              compare the lack of


                          leaves and rafters

                                                                                house sparrow

obscuring as pastime

a combination of her

                          unstreaked and aggressive

                          she paused by the back steps


                                                                                willow flycatcher

to lack what is prominent

              she has your eyes


THERMOS 10: Hunter Deely, “Dobro Lathe Bone Star Bryophyte Observatory”

This is the final poem from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry — and also the final poem Hunter completed prior to his death. For an introduction, see here.

Dobro Lathe Bone Star Bryophyte Observatory

He set up the telescope on the gravel path and trained it on the north star, explained to the boy that once set the gears in the telescope would turn it precisely along with the rotation of the earth, so they could watch the moons of Jupiter all night and not have to worry about moving the lens, because within the machinery of the telescope was a perfect microcosm of the machinery of the universe. Not a day goes by I don’t think of you. She was a fan of Lolita, kept the movie poster above her bed. The electroshock made her forget me but she remembered Lolita. They watched the moons of Jupiter till morning, also their own moon, and a satellite spinning. As they walked back through a field of dry grasses wet with dew, smelling of dew, he looked down at his feet and saw the body of a luna moth, perfectly dried and dead there caught up in the feet of the grasses. He lifted it gently from where it was tangled so as not to crush it and showed it to the boy, showed him the two white antennae that look like feathers and the black spots on the wings and explained their purpose. Years later I thought of this as I sat with you in the town graveyard while we injected each other with white gardenias. The houses there curved up at sharp angles like a skating ramp, and leaned over dogfighting rings full of broken glass the color of an iris. Her hair started to fall out from the medication, which they purchased from the company her father defended in court. He wore beautiful white suits and had a beautiful daughter with dark eyes that had trouble seeing because really they belonged in the skull of a deer.

The birdbaths froze over some time that night, and he woke early and showed the boy, first the sycamore leaves that had got stuck beneath the ice, their image refracted so the fractal edges extended to the edge of the water, and second how to scrape the ice away and refill the bath with a pot of warm water heated up on the yellow stove, to keep the birds from freezing as they cleaned their feathers. Then they split some wood to add to the ever- burning winter fire and set a black cauldron of pinto beans over the flames. The worst part is, if you ever said you loved me, I would never believe it. You were never there in the graveyard, you were down by the docks with another man. But the idea of you was there in the form of another, as often happens in these kinds of situations.

Later in the day, as they walked down toward the river, they encountered a long rattle snake trying to swallow a mourning dove. The dove was halfway down the throat already, and all its feathers had fallen out. They spread out to form an iridescent halo around the head of the snake. The naked dove struggled. He promptly cut the snake’s head off with an axe and set it along with the rattle in a jar with salt on the bookshelf next to a slim volume on the medicinal uses of the wild herbs of central Idaho. It was too late for the dove. I wonder if herbs would have been enough for you. That is a fallacy. They went to the river and he taught the boy how to swim, the names of the fish and the water birds: kingfisher, mallard, egret, heron. The river was green and the riverbed was made of soft clay. The boy used the clay to fashion small figures that resembled wolves with dragonfly wings. I was upset by the morning light, because it meant you were leaving. I got a job in a microchip factory and saw your reflection in the red sheen of the silicon twelve hours a day.

Her condition improved, which only made it harder for her to identify with her identity as it was comprised of the person she had been some- where between ten years and ten minutes prior. He began to get attacks of vertigo. Walking along a path lined with mockingbird skeletons he had to lean against a tree, and he laughed, wondering if he had somehow become drunk without drinking. Then he realized he was not standing, that he could not stand no matter how hard he tried, and he decided to see a doctor, but there were no doctors there, then, so he died, and explained to the boy the proper method of burial.

I have dirt beneath my fingernails. After we finished with the gardenias it became very difficult to take the intersecting angles of telephone wires, insect wings, and sunlight. They make me want to say that I love you. But you know I love you, so why say it? That is not really the point, anyway. She smelled a bit like orchid soil. Not a day goes by I don’t think of you. He showed the boy how certain plants grow on tree limbs and live off what they can gather from the air. This, he said, is a very good way to live one’s life. Just remember that it can be very difficult to accept only what is given. Just remember that that is all we will ever have.

THERMOS 10: Two Poems by Hunter Deely

These two poems are from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. Check back tomorrow for a final poem. For an introduction, see here.

For the possibility of the dead

These are the avocado seed cities,
                            tomatoes and chocolate in the streets.
              When our reflections in the blue glass
                                of office buildings begin to remember
their pilgrimage. The young men on the streets of Piedras Negras
                                          with Virgin Guadalupe tattoos, unsure
                            from which dream they are waking.

I have eyes in the back of my head that detect
                            the scent of approaching frogs, swarms
          of spider flies. These are the cities we burned
              as we recited the different types of clouds:

We don’t have an immigration problem,
we have a capitalism problem,
                                    we have a problem
                                    of biting into tomatoes
                                    and being covered in blood.

              He has a coffee stain on his forehead
              which functions as a violent cipher.

We suffer from the reverence of rebellion,
                              suffer the coffee burning red
          and black stars into our chests – the image
          that lets us sustain the deadly abstraction.

The power plant is made of bones.
                      Coal butterflies tumbling over the lake.

For the possibility of the dead, we divide sycamore leaves by their veins.

No, it is not a metaphor – we do receive these messages,
                      the trees are covered in gang tattoos.

She made love to me in an elevator
                      and drank a bottle of eyedrops.

She made love to me on the beach
                      and cut her hand open with broken glass.
She made love to me in a pecan orchard
                      and used the insecticide for contraception.

These are the vaults of undying fruit. We
                      took their possibility for granted,
              forgot how soft her avocado felt as I
                pushed it through my teeth. Let it go.

Just let it go. The truth is what we call it.
                                              The lake is dead, peopled by ghost turtles
              and heavy metal. From the checker tile mansion
we sneak into the labyrinth, open the vault door
                            out to a beach of coal.

                            Chocolate drops from her eyes.
              Chocolatl. Avocatl. When she speaks Nahuatl
                            she does it softly.

Ocelots line the streets of border towns.
Everyone will be forgotten. Everyone
will be forgotten.

She made love to me in the bowels of Yucca Mountain.
With my finger in her ass she vomited uranium, our half life
                      approaching in the eyes of ocelots.
            I disgust myself. In the city
                                          of electrical bones the clairvoyant reminds me
    I have chosen to receive these words.
              These hieroglyphs on her bloody cheeks.
    Her turquoise teeth.
Ah, the taste of her eyes.
The taste of her bloody, chocolate eyes.
Everyone will be forgotten. Everyone
                            will be

After the Flood / The Nest

Fossil hunting on a hill, I found a book
my mother had left in a sudden shower
when she still had strength to climb.

It had warped and caught in mountain laurel
branches, and it seemed very hard, yet light.

The binding flaked onto my fingers,
and its brittleness showed how much rain
it really had drunk: down to a cavern
emptied and refilled at the center.

There would be a Great Mystical Significance
to whichever poem I read. A shared meaning
would curl palpably in the air above the outcrop
of limestone. As soon as I knew the words,
pieces of the universe would fly together to show
that there is no space between any two things.

When I split the spine termites poured
over my hands like escaped letters, pages
ground down at the edges and excreted in a fine
dust that settled brown at the mountain laurel’s roots.

I couldn’t remember the sound of her voice
caught in the silence of the nest of dead words,
in the shriveled, hollow shell of a paper mask.

THERMOS 10: Hunter Deely, “Hush, hearse: arise” (Notes by Pat Deely)

This poem, along with a commentary by Pat Deely, come from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back every day this week for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.

Hush, hearse: arise

Stop. Smell oranges, taste fog
                off the swamp. Ask
directions at the gas station-cum-funeral
home in Norco.
                                That None Shall Perish
on staccato windows. Hush
the cormorant’s wing. Time
hush, moss hang
                like vapor from a rusted crane.
                                                Crane rust.

You with a head of morning
                                glory describe
the nameless lovers in your hair.
                                Name love.

Name: How the goats did sob, Emiliana,
in brittle marsh trees, in lilies.

                                East hush, to leave behind
the needle, platoons of corn like terra
cotta soldiers. Suck
the mud from my arm like chocolate,
                                liana, rung with thorns:
                That None
                                who pass
                                as grace, with rust
Shall Perish. How
these crops and wildflowers,
                                cormorant, goat,
                                –refinery, incinerator,
                                crane, hearse–arise
from silt, through duckweed / Nitrogen and
                how creation breaks down: Black
abscess pulse
                                                a separate life, That None
                                you swore, what saturates the flesh,
                Emiliana my junkie. What burns it.
Move. Push
the orange in my
                mouth like a nipple.
                                                                Shall Perish

On “Hush, hearse: arise,” or “emiliana my junkie”

I have vacillated over the meaning of this poem. Thinking about it one way leads me to believe the speaker is traveling with the woman, but another view leads me to conclude that the speaker is lamenting her death. Either way, the commanding tone and religious theme resonate strongly in me.

The title – “Hush, hearse: arise” – reminds me of a line in W.H. Auden’s poem, “Funeral Blues”: “Stop all the clocks . . . .” The hearse – a funerary vehicle that transports a dead person from a church or funeral home to a cemetery – is ordered to stop and someone is ordered to “arise” invoking a biblical image such as Christ’s raising Lazarus after he had been buried for four days (John11: 1-46), the rising from death to life of those who heard the voice of God’s son (John 5: 24-29), or Christ’s own ascension after three days of entombment (1 Corinthians 15:4).

Implying movement, the command to “Stop” as the first word in the first line jolts the reader into experiencing the senses of smell and taste. “Smell oranges”; orange being a color associated with sexuality and the aroma of the fruit an aid to reducing anxiety, nervousness, and stress. Tasting the swamp fog suggests a still, heavy atmosphere and that the speaker is lost, which is reinforced when the speaker has to ask for directions. And a swamp or marsh is a common symbol of the decomposition of the spirit.

The place for direction is a dual-purpose building: a gas station for refuel- ing and a funeral home for preparing the dead for an afterlife. And this “gas station-cum-funeral home” is located in Norco. Norco, Louisiana, is a small refinery town west of New Orleans on the eastern edge of the large Bonnett Carre Spillway. The town’s name is an acronym for New Orleans Refinery Company. Refining is the conversion of oil into gasoline and related hydro- carbon chemicals. Norco also was the site of the 1811 so-called German Coast Uprising revolt of 200 slaves led by free person of color, Charles Delondes. So, the building and town represent places of conversion or transition.

The next line is dropped down with words offset and in italics. We are read- ing the words “That None Shall Perish” that are printed on the abrupt and disjointed, “staccato” windows of the dual-purpose building. This phrase is sort of a punch line for the rationale underlying apostle Peter’s argument to those denying the prophecy of New Testament scripture that the world will come to an end by pointing to the fact that it has not happened. Peter’s argument is that the Lord is patient, wanting everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), so “That None Shall Perish.” Repentance can be summed up as the act of viewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs and in Christian theology, to turn to God.

The speaker commands that the cormorant’s wing “hush” as well as “Time.” The double-crested black cormorant is common to Louisiana. Often seen perched with wings half open to dry, Christians see the bird as representing the cross. The fact that it dives under water to catch fish makes the cormorant a common symbol for “transformation,” but in this poem the speaker wants any transformation and time to stop. Why does the speaker want the hearse, time, and the cormorant’s wing to stop? Suspended by these commands and images the reader is directed to moss hanging from a rusting crane. An operating crane lifts and moves objects. This crane, how- ever, is in a degenerative stasis.

The speaker then shifts the reader’s focus to another person and her hair; her “head of morning glory” (I say “her” because in a few lines we learn her name). The morning glory often is a symbol of the Resurrection. The woman describes the “nameless lovers” in her hair full of morning glory. The speaker then challenges the reader to “Name love” and begins a new line with the word “Name” at which point the reader is introduced to the name of the other person in the poem: “Emiliana.”

In primitive thought, the name of a person is not merely an appellation, but denotes what he or she is to the world outside him or herself. The name, Emiliana, which means to strive, excel, or rival, most famously belonged to one of three aunts of St. Gregory the Great. She and her sister, Tarsilla, lived in their father’s house as if in a monastery encouraging each to virtue by discourse and example. Tarsilla passed on to heaven on Christmas eve and, a few days later, appeared to Emiliana and called her to celebrate the Epiphany in heaven. Emiliana died on January 5th.

We are given Emiliana’s name in a scene with goats sobbing in “brittle marsh trees” like the thicket in which Abraham caught the soon to be sacrificed ram (Genesis 22:13) and among lilies, which symbolize purity to Christians and chastity and virtue. The goat is a popular Christian symbol for the damned. The speaker suggests that the damned are sobbing because they have given up the “needle”; quit using heroin. The metaphorical connection of “platoons of corn” – corn being a symbol of sustenance, staff of life – with “terra cotta soldiers” – a reference most probably to the collection of terra cotta sculptures of soldiers buried with the first Emperor of China (Qin Shi Huang Di) to protect him in the afterlife – emphasizes the significance of heroin in the speaker’s life.

The speaker then commands Emiliana to suck the mud from his arm “like chocolate.” “Mud” is slang for heroin as is the Aztec word for a chocolate- like concoction, “chocolatl.” The poet splits the woman’s name with the word “Sun.” A few lines before, the poet commanded that the “East hush,” which could be a reference to the rising sun. Now, the woman’s name is part of the “sun,” which is a common symbol for the soul rising to heaven, and her head is “rung with thorns.” In Christian symbolism, thorns represent the fall of man, sin, sorrow, etc. Woven thorn branches were placed on the head of Jesus before his crucifixion.

The poet reiterates the funeral home window phrase, but inserts the con- cepts of those people “who pass as grace, with rust” to underscore the concept that those who have sinned, those who have “rust,” but experience grace – an unmerited gift of the divine favor in the salvation of sinners, and the divine influence operating in man for his regeneration and sanctification – shall not perish.

The speaker then reflects on the broader cycle of life – how these plants, animals, machines arise – and how it all degenerates: “breaks down.” These creations “arise from silt, through duckweed / Nitrogen.” Duckweed is an aquatic plant that fuels its growth by rapidly removing necessary minerals from the water on which it floats. It is especially adept at removing phosphates and nitrogen, particularly ammonia. Nitrogen is an element that is a constituent of all living tissue and a major element in plant nutrition.

The break down of life is symbolized by the black abscess signifying a separate life; that is, a life under the influence of heroin. “Black” is the color of darkness, depression, death, and mourning. “Abscess” is a localized collection of pus surrounded by a black ring and reddish inflamed tissue that is common among injecting drug users.

Then, the speaker presents the funeral home window phrase, for the third time, split by yet a larger aside. The speaker appears to be admonishing Emiliana because she swore she left the needle behind and the drug that “saturates the flesh,” “burns it.” The speaker then commands Emiliana to “move” and “push the orange” in his “mouth like a nipple” conjuring up the image of a mother giving vital sustenance to her baby. But there is no evidence that Emiliana can move.

P.S. The poem is saved as “emiliana my junkie.” An earlier rough draft is clearer about the ending eating an orange connecting the beginning: “We the smell of oranges…” the “mud from my arm like chocolate” referring to heroin by following “chocolate,” which is Mexican slang for heroin and that Emiliana has not quit heroin: “You swore you were cleaned-up.”

                ‧ Pat Deely

THERMOS 10: Hunter Deely, “salmon river, idaho”

This poem is from our special issue of THERMOS featuring Hunter Deely’s poetry. You can check back during the remainder of this week for more of his poetry. For an introduction, see here.

salmon river, idaho

ah the dead pig’s ghost
ambles down the riverbank
every morning, blessed be

on a burned stump the
hummingbird clung
to his flannel

the burned trees piercing
the mountain sides
like feathers, hunting
grouse all morning

he used to shoot up cocaine,
still a purple gnarl
on the inside of his elbow
where he hit, a kind of slug
or flower

a kind of amnesia, blessed
be, in these hills, the open
knife with its taste buds

i am waiting for a living
man to die so i can ask him

they kill the pig each fall

and when he looks down
the barrel, does he see
the eye of his father

does he see the tree of dark
metal twisting in the night

saying blessed be, here
twenty two nez perce were
massacred in the night

ah there is blood all over,
watch the trees, watch
the hummingbird

do not forget that omens
are real, that they touch us

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 Luminous Mutton of Montpellier

Montpellier, France ‧ 1641

                And the putrefaction doth spread.
                                ‧ Francis Bacon

A woman woke on a warm night to find
her kitchen filled with white light.

Night in the land of restless peasants
fills with the force between cells
that leaks out as the rot sets in. The whole
village come to see what voice spoke
from the hunk of lamb swinging like Christ
from the rafters. That it was slaughtered
with a blade that set the moonlight inside
its body, that it was fed on rosemary
and thyme that set essential fire to its blood.

Or the devil had come to call out then,
spreading, without explanation, like death.

Kerrville, Texas ‧ 1994

                The light does not originate from putrefaction,
                nor is it begotten by it, but only laid open

                                ‧ Thomas Bartholin

One night when you were a child
you walked home by the deer trail
along the limestone hill, without
a flashlight. The first thin snow spread
patches along the brittle effluvia of
white lichen on oak bark. You
approached the tree on whose limb
grew a cactus with a single, dark
optunia. You had passed this
vegetable coil a thousand times
before. But tonight a dead stag
splayed his body across the trail
as if he still leapt a rusty fencewire.
Eyes missing. Lips pulled back
over the molars in a feral grin.
In his open chest the murmur
of grubs. And light ‧
no metaphor for it ‧
poured from the sockets where
once it refracted, and the gums
shone silver and the bones made
a map of the stars in autumn.
And from the rotting stumps
that sunk back into the hill like
water, the same light was rising.
The snow streaks moonlit.
And your breath was white and
            burning, and luminous,
as the cold entered you and left
you without your instruction.
The optunia in the cactus the
only dark body in a landscape
of ghosts, and inside its flesh
the deep red juice was turning,
and you looked down and your own
body was dark, burning, and alive.

This poem’s title and quotations are taken from “A History of Luminescence,” E. Newton Harvey, Dover Press: 1957.

For War

The dead hare kicked. In a pickup bed
kicked up toward Castor and Pollux
on a field of rust and paint blue-flecked.
Under our boots a scorpion nest, but
though they hid from the cold air we
were real men. When you kill a pregnant
mother the children don’t immediately die.
They sense the blood around them
slow to the dull shift of gravity, the tide
of the distant sea in every vein. I held
the flashlight with numb knuckles taut
while Chuck opened his knife and cut
the orphans out and let them fall, one
by one into a plastic bucket and whistled
to call the dog from the shed. Everything
both alive and fresh-dead emanating steam,
breath hung on the cold crystals of light
like cactus spines. Their skin clear as an eye
that knows you’re lying, you could see right
through to the ribs and the thin, blue veins
and the blind-sucking lungs, the ghosts of
warm vapor rising while the dog reached
in and gnawed their soft, silent bodies, slow.
Sirius, they call the eye of the dog. It burns
brighter than any other; than Orion’s belt
or the belly of the hare. I could mourn how
cruelly we watched them devoured,
born early in winter to make us, fourteen
years old, feel strength, and death, and wild-
hearted and warm. But it was a cold night,
and the dog was hungry. And soon, we reached
the age where some of us would head off
in a truck bed, with a gun, still children,
                                                                              for war

THERMOS 10: Hunter Deely, “Lost In the Loop (An Elegy)”

This piece of non-fiction 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.

Lost in the Loop (An Elegy)

Clive lives in an old Spanish style house in an old Spanish style neighborhood in San Antonio. When he walks out the back door from his kitchen, down a concrete path to his studio, banana plants and orchids and tropical plants brush his face. There is always a vase of fresh flowers on top the piano. When he rubs the horsehair bow across the rosin block, sweet dust fumes in the light and makes him sneeze. Clive is alone.

It’s strange how the first long note of a violin sounds just like a trumpet, like breath was pouring from the strings. The tape player clicks on ambient music for the background, and for a few minutes all the sad faces and neurotic tics and the subconscious operations of the day disappear, and Clive is alone.

When he finishes playing, he listens to the recording and erases it before it finishes. He sets the violin back in its case, staring into the wooden eyes of the bearded face carved into the head of the violin, hundreds of years old and worth more than his house. He covers it with its velvet blanket, places the bow on its hooks, closes the case, zips it up slowly, breathes in the rustle of the blanket on the strings, the metal teeth clicking together, the affront against silence, and then as the last teeth close the faint ringing starts up, and he stands mesmerized by it, like the dying of a chime which never really stops, just bleeds into the vibration of the air and the bodies and stones around it, the Earth always humming and gyrating to its own harmony as if all the heartbeats in the universe were shivering in Clive’s cochlea in those brief moments when the world tries its hardest to hold and finds itself too full of life.

When I was nine years old I started taking lessons from Clive Amor. At the time, I was obsessed by Celtic fiddle music and I wanted nothing more than to play it. That year, just before the turn of the millennium, my father took me to a Chieftans concert, the first time I had ever really seen live music aside from country and western bands at rodeo dancehalls. The music was fast, a whole choir of old men and young women with long hair plucked strange and beautiful instruments and the soft drone at the back, as if the bagpiper were standing behind me (the band had no bagpiper). The music was plaintive, a girl danced a jig, the bodhrans rumbled and the room clapped in unison.

In the symphony hall, his vision tunnels. Small plucks on strings rise and drop, heels click on clean wood, bodily adjustments in the seats, chatter and chuckles, sniffs of mucus back into the throat, throats clearing, all rising together in a chorus of offset insect wings. Clive can do nothing but stare at the notes on his sheets of music, which begin to wiggle the longer he goes forgetting to blink, or breathe, subconscious operations which require a great deal of effort when his brain becomes addled with the din. Someone says hello, and he smiles. He swallows his spit and tries to listen to the tone he knows must lie somewhere within the noise.

He hears a note from a cello. The bow changes direction so quick and smooth there is no discernible break in the note, though he knows that a perforation exists somewhere, that his brain must register it on some deeper level. The conductor takes the stand. The rustle stops and for a second the ringing is there. And then the first notes explode from twenty violins, the drums beat, Clive moves his arms and fingers without thought, almost mechanical, yet feeling less like a machine that at any other point in his existence. Seventy-six people with seventy-six different and more or less unrelated lives leave themselves and merge in a hidden osmosis, they mimic the processes churning in yellow blobs on the seafloor and in fungus grow- ing on dead trees and of the blood and the cells in their own bodies, and they play to an invisible audience, an audience always invisible even when they’re there.

When I was finally able to play a song it was overwhelming. The notes wavered, balanced on an invisible tightrope, and all the images over- flowed from my fingers, thin green rivers, sod and woodsmoke, washerwomen singing to the trees. Then I hit a wrong note and I found myself back in my living room in the suburbs of San Antonio, and went to the CD player to listen to the song the way I imagined it in my head. It was from an album called Lost in the Loop.

In the studio, I watch my black school shoes sinking into the ornate rug, the designs reflecting distorted on the polished leather. I have not practiced my piece, and when Clive asks me to play, with that voice, almost a whisper, each word enunciated with the precision and understated vibrato of a note on his fiddle, the sounds coiling at the end of his tongue like the designs on the rug, I stumble, play wrong notes, I wince through the song while he smiles and his wet lunar eyes stay fixed and shimmering. He plays a few notes, and moves my fingers to a wider grip, I stumble more and he chuckles and helps me through again, and we dance away the hour.

He stands in the doorway while I walk to the car, and he and my mother chat when she goes to hand him his check, while I skip the CD to my favorite track, “The Old Maid of Galway,” and watch Inca doves explode from the asphalt when a car drives past, return and erupt again in sync with the waves of the song. The wet heat in the car is so heavy it’s hard to breathe; a film of oil seeps from my skin, my lower back is wet against the seat.

Clive is upstairs in his house, watching rain fall. His neck is sore. He loops a short riff from the keyboard and starts to play over it, slowly. He can’t make his arm move. He opens his eyes. The rain on the window spreads over his field of vision, he turns knobs on the keyboard and the distant notes bleed together in a pulse as moth wings pulse, the smell of mothballs up into his forehead and the rain fills the room with clouds, two bells sound, the violin falls to the floor, the clouds are spreading, the clouds are spreading and all the air leaves the room.

My mother comes to me weeping and says Mr. Amor is in a coma from meningitis and he was the nicest man she ever knew, why do these things always happen to good people, why?

I listen to Lost in the Loop in my room and wonder what they are yelling about in the other room and why do these things always happen to good people and not my dad when he’s woozy and why do I bother listening to music that kills the people who make it and where am I anyway is there someone looking in the windows at night are the trains in the distance really there or do I hear them to keep away the sound of nothing? My house is on top of a hill and the city is spread out below me, the city lights from far away like a sea of eyes that passes into the stars, that stares and stares.

Years later, I would realize that the Loop was the loop of the song, the loop of life. But at the time I assumed it referred to Loop 1604, the highway that circles San Antonio, which we passed under when we drove out to the Hill Country to swim in the river and listen to the music of the frogs. The country was full of fireflies and low hills and cypress trees, and the fiddle music was always most at home out there, as it is in all hill countries. I hunted fossils and collected bugs and the air always smelled clean and thick, thick sometimes like the rotting carcass of a deer.

“Are you better now Mr. Amor?”
“I certainly hope so. I have to take antibiotics and call them if I feel strange but I feel wonderful.”
“What happened?”
“I went into a coma from spinal meningitis, when your spinal cord gets swollen. I was asleep for two weeks.”
“Did it hurt?’’
“It was the best feeling I’ve ever felt.” He looks out the window.
“I was floating in a bed of clouds and time didn’t pass anymore, I was just staring at the sky and the sun filled the whole sky, and I heard the most beautiful music, it was a violin and choir of voices but really they made the same sound, and I wasn’t sure who or what or where I was but I could see the notes of the music. When I recorded it I wrote it down and I recorded this CD yesterday. It doesn’t sound like what I heard but it’s as best as I can remember it. It was so beautiful. So what songs have you been working on?”

I trace the coils of the violin strings around their pegs with my fingers. I haven’t played in years. The Clash is blaring over the stereo, my guitars are strewn about the room. What a catastrophe. Why won’t she return my calls? I wish I was sleeping. My throat is sore from the last time I saw my parents and told them I didn’t love them.

On the bed is a small postcard which says in cursive letters “Celebrating the Life of Clive Amor 1958-2004.” I have not spoken to him in five years, since I quit taking lessons to learn the guitar instead. Was it meningitis? The song ends. The ringing starts up. I close my eyes and see the pat- terns of the rug on my small black shoes coiling behind my eyes, I wonder if I’m really here, if someone is watching me and if so what would they think of me if someone is watching me my whole life, not God (I don’t believe in God) but someone is watching, someone must be watching. What happened to Mr. Amor? If I hadn’t seen the card on a table in my English classroom he would have disappeared silently; now the fiddle music is screaming through the pulse of the air conditioner, the cars on the road outside, the sound of my fingerprints against the texture of the spun strings, and the ringing is making a tune, “The Old Maid of Galway,” one riff that rises
up like the hill behind my house in the country on the North side of Loop 1604, repeating itself over and over, over and over, like a woman crying whose tears melt her house of sod, the loop is closing in, there is no air in the room, my neck is stiff, it’s sunny outside but I swear it’s raining. All I can see is the sun through the window. Clive is looking at the sun, hearing music he can’t copy onto tape, music that only exists when there are no senses but only the music of his innards and bones and brain pumping slower and slower, the loop of blood slowing like the emptying riverbed where the fiddle music settles, and I throw the card in the trashcan, and I wish I could play the music I am hearing.

THERMOS 10: Three Poems by Hunter Deely

These three poems come 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.

Grabbing Fish

I remember how my father held still his arms in the water,
this as the dark roots that coiled from the bank, sunk
in mud that smelled like the grubs at the centers of dead trees.
As he let his breath go slower, and slower from his lungs,
he seemed to die. Gnats in swarms lit on his skin. He was still.
I never felt so alone, as I watched his green eyes
and the mind in them dissolve like salt into the river.

The shadows turned. I tried to sit still and ignore the heat
that burned in my joints, the painful slowness of my blood
as I watched red and white blossoms fall to the water
for hours, until just as one hit the surface in silence, everything
awoke with a wet shudder, with foam, and dark water splashed
across his face as his arms swelled and flung upward, as in prayer,
and his fingers sunk deep into the soft flesh of the catfish while blood,
his and the fish’s mingled, ran down his arms like liquid vines,
like sap. I started to cry when I realized we both were alive.
We gutted the fish, burned an offering of leaves stained
with the blood, cooked and ate him on the spot.

Now the image dissolves in the wind, like the sand we rub
from our arms. I can’t even remember how many we missed
as he showed me how to breathe and to sit like the roots
of the black tree, to grab fish who slip past. Like selfless love,
or the reasons for our lies and our thefts, they slip past,
and we commemorate them in paintings and in glyphs―
those things about ourselves we can never understand.
I’ve been lying about my feelings all my life just to get by.
Ghosts haunt me from the river, their bodies are alive.

Ghost Song

we match twice our voices
                to the kingfisher’s call        first
exact        then an octave below        where water where
water keeps a three-quarter time
                over limestone                                shell
studded surface through quivering           lens

he washed his dark skin his black hair
                like moss              he drank              the river broad
chested into the hollows of his body of stone

the eyes of deer are watching                        their bodies
                              their bodies are watching
                us pass

one note comes from a hollow bone and though
                already inside us we deafly withstood
its vibration                                                        heatwaves

                in the distance                    dancers to
a mirage song engraving light
south texas in june                            the roach tells a story

how he lived at the feet of wide
                shouldered white men    how
the fallout turned the sky to rust                  fell
                                like insect wings


how the gleaming barrel wilts
                in the moisture

how the blood flower opens                          its flow
                                keeps a three-quarter time

we turn twice to jesus                                      first
                to wash off our mother’s blood then
an octave below                                where grace is
                a kingfisher
                in a desert of voices

Extraordinary Rendition

One morning he woke and his wife was not in bed next to him, in the same position she had been
        for many mornings before, the line of her nose blurred by the light through the window.

He put on his jeans and walked barefoot out to the barn. The dew on his feet spoke with his blood
        cells in a register too high for him to hear.

The grass was darker than usual, like it had all started to rot.

He pulled open the double doors of the barn, and as his eyes adjusted he could make out lines
        twisting in the darkness, the smell of wet hay something extracted from the oil of horses.

She turned and saw him there, arms outstretched on the doors, silhouetted against morning, the
        way light passes through a leaf, the scar on his belly a branch of an ancient river, and she
        thought how beautiful he was, Jesus with a crew cut.

She was sculpting seahorses out of bailing wire, grease on her hands the color of grackle feathers,
        seahorses built from a succession of lines of dark metal and hung from the rafters, spinning
        quietly in the column of light from the doorway.

He took off his glasses and asked what she was doing.

“Once, when I was a little girl, I went to the aquarium and there was a penguin who swam straight
        up against the glass, pushing his face into the space he imagined there I guess, moving, but he
        was still, really still.”

He put his glasses back on. The dew on his feet was turning to light.

“And then sometime in the middle of the night my body disappeared. They call it a black site, like in
        the middle of your eye. They extract our words and drip them on the hay. We are the invisible
        horses in a web.”

He took a deep breath in and the haysmell felt warm on his lungs.

He dropped his arms. “I’ll go make some coffee.”

THERMOS 10: Two Poems by Hunter Deely (Notes by Pat Deely)

Here are two versions of a poem, along with a commentary, 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 Idea of Order at No Place In Particular

Her body is an aspen tree, pale and covered
in scars. In the drift of falling leaves, she
tells me the quaking aspen is the oldest living
thing on this earth. Each tree in this forest
rises from a single system of roots that never
dies. Fire does not touch their embrace,
and in this wind over Utah they whisper
through their roots, the weight of our touch
is eighty thousand years of ashes and leaves.

She tells me, a tree turned toward the center
of the earth will twist itself away and back
into the arms of its roots. The same way
starlings fly, rising at a straight angle and then
a sudden swerve into a dip on a hidden current
rushing dark across a winter field, white
with frost and stubble, east of Dallas. These
words are the ghostly demarcations—the trees
and the starlings only appear separate when
I name them. Just hold me here in silence.

The largest organism in the world, she says,
is a mycelium in an Oregon forest. It holds
a mushroom consciousness. Its strands carry
rivers of mushroom-neurons and it speaks
the language of decomposition. The aspens
have a consciousness too, and when they
burn their ashes still have it. The starling’s
mind travels on the cold air beneath their wings
and into their black eyes filled with endless
light. There is no such thing as being alone.
Take this on faith―on my words. For I
have never dug beneath the bright, trembling
bodies of those trees, and I have never put
my ear to the chest of a frozen starling and
heard the sound of the ocean at Key West.

So we have loved one another since―we
have no word for it, there was no time. Since
since did not exist. When—there was no
when. Everything, she says, in the universe
grows farther apart from everything, always.
There is no center. The center of the universe
is everywhere, always. Just remember, she says,
and though her words are ghosts I listen,
and though her body is scarred I hold it,
we quake like leaves, we forget, we are aspen,
                                starling, mushroom, ash.

On “The Idea of Order at No Place In Particular”

In this poem, Hunter steps into the debate sparked by Wallace Stevens’ poem, “The Idea Of Order At Key West.” The title of Hunter’s poem and the designation of certain words in the second stanza – “the trees and the starlings” – as “ghostly demarcations,” and the speaker’s declaration that she “never . . . heard the sound of the ocean at Key West” in the third stanza confirm the link to Stevens’ poem. Accordingly, I first will attempt to summarize the issue at play in Stevens’ poem as I see it.

In the context of lush, tropical nature – or perhaps in contrast to it – Stevens proposes that the human mind and its imagination are preeminent in ordering the experience of the outside world, and even suggests that the mind may actually create the outside world. The conclusion, however, seems to be that the human mind does not create the natural world in which it exists, but does create the order through which we experience that world and imposes that “order” on it. The “rage for order,” says Stevens, leads to the “keener sounds” through poetic articulation by spiritly infused “ghostly demarcations.”

It seems to me that Stevens’ poem adheres to and glorifies the ancient, Aristotelian view of the universe as divided into two different realms: one heavenly, the other earthly. In contrast, Hunter’s poem exalts the theory that since our universe is expanding all matter and energy was at an earlier time condensed into a space smaller than an atom. Having exploded from that nucleus suggests that everything exists as one even though we cannot see all the sources of forces impacting our lives. Though the evidence for the “Big Bang” theory is relatively new, the conviction that we exist as one is old. For example, the Greeks called their universe the “cosmos” meaning a single, harmonious system.

In the first stanza of Hunter’s poem, we are introduced to a female “pale and covered in scars” who teaches the poet something in each of the four stanzas. In the first, we learn about the root system by which aspen trees thrive and survive. Aspen trees can live for 40 to 150 years, but aspen colonies can live tens of thousands of years. They do so by surviving forest fires because their root system is below the heat of the fire. A burnt over colony generates new sprouts after the fire burns out. The “Pando” colony in Utah is estimated to be about 80,000 years old. In that light, the poet realizes that his and her “touch is 80,000 years of ashes and leaves.”

In the second stanza, we are introduced to some mysterious natural events: a tree trunk that will “twist . . . back into the arms of its roots” and the sudden right angle turn of a flock of starlings, “a dip on a hidden current.” Driven by these unseen forces, the fundamental existence of plants and animals begs the question: why? The answer is not in words, for “words are [only] the ghostly demarcations” of the forces. The female mentor admonishes the poet to “Just hold me here in silence” like the roots do the tree.

To imagine a “mushroom” conjures up visions of the parasol-like plant such as a shiitake mushroom. That aspect of the plant, however, is just the fruit- ing part of a fungus that exists by absorbing nutrients through filaments (or hyphae) that are collectively called a mycelium. In the third stanza, we are told about the “largest organism in the world,” which exists in eastern Oregon. The mycelium is, in effect, the “consciousness” of the “mushroom” like the aspen root system. Considering the relationship of the mycelium and mushroom in this way is consistent with the Aristotelian concept of psyche in plants; and “that this psyche or soul is most likely to be found at the point where the plant’s underground root meets the shoot above (‘qua scilicet radix germini coniunqitur, locus videatur cordi plantarum opportunissimus’).” [The Naming Of Names, p. 234, Pavord, Anna (Bloomsbury 2005).]

In the New Testament anonymous book of Hebrews, we are instructed that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” [11.1] In conclusion, the poet draws us to that moment before the “spark” to underscore the message that, like the unseen force dramatically altering the path of a flock of starlings, we are all connected by hidden and un- known links and that our life vision should be driven by the conviction that we are one.

P.S. I focused on this poem at first because of the title and the few lines that distinguish the poem by Wallace Stevens, “The Idea of Order at Key West.” It was not until a few weeks later that I realized this poem was a shorter version of Hunter’s poem, “starling’s lament.” Based on Hunter’s laptop, “starling’s lament” followed this poem. Much of what I have observed about “The Idea of Order at No Place in Particular” applies to “starling’s lament.”

                ―Pat Deely

starling’s lament

her body is an aspen
pale and scarred
she says the quaking
aspen never dies

its roots spread
like an echo in
wind over utah
and sleep under
eighty thousand years
of ashes and leaves

and when the bodies
burn what survives
is their connection

turn a tree upside down
toward the center
of the earth she tells me
and it twists away
back into the arms
of its roots
it knows

how starlings fly
rising straight
and then a sudden
swerve into a dip
on a hidden current
rushing dark across
a winter field

a murmuration
she says of starlings
their coil and burst
a system of words
just soft enough to fall
beneath the threshold

the starling’s body doesn’t end
where black feathers
contrast with snow
as each quaking leaf
in this forest
is the same being
when we name them
words become the ghosts
of their embrace

and how two bodies
forget the emergence
of their love
is beyond words
the hush
the starling’s lament
as each cell ripples
out invisible as light
as revealing

in oregon she says
a mushroom mind
recurs under moss
a mycelium larger
than any other
living creature
a murmuration

and these threads extend
like the first frost
across a pond
with brittle fingers
that reach from one phase
into the hurried
displacement of matter
from its ghost

the holy disassemblers
who rise from our
footprints to catch
the debris that
drifts in our wake
are listening now
to her voice here
among the aspens
with swiveling leaves
to keep the edges
of shadows shifting
over our bodies

she tells me
this is my own mind
the starlings
swoop singly
in my skull and burst
from my eyes
with the taste
of mushrooms like
the language of dead
wood on my tongue

we reach the point
where faith alone
can carry us
to this conclusion

that there is no
such thing as
being alone

we have no word for it
there was no time
since “since”
did not exist
we have loved

everything she says
in the universe
is constantly growing
farther apart
from everything else
so there is no center
so the center
is everywhere
in everything

just remember
she tells me
and though her words
are ghosts I listen
and though her body
is scarred I hold it
we quake
we forget
we are aspen

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

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,

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

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

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