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

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.