Archive for the ‘From the Magazine’ Category

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

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.


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.


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


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,

                                                                                                        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

                                                                            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


on my chest.

Just enough to release a wave

                                                                through glass
                                                                like waterbirds
                                                                into clouds.

That’s how crickets remember