Monthly Archives: June 2015

Monday’s Verse, 6/8/2015

Some readers may remember James Najarian, professor of Victorian Lit at Boston College. Not a fusty old-timer, he was actually new when many of us were "new," and even deigned to shoot hoops with the grad students–with whom he looked roughly equal in age.Ten years down the line, I learn that he’s a poet (an award-winning one, at that), thanks to the placement of this piece in the Boston College alumni mag.

This is one of the few poems where the poet has actually granted his permission to re-publish in this forum!

Najarian grew up on a goat farm in Berks County, PA, a mostly rural county also famed for its "family detention center" where ICE locks up single mothers and children as young as one month old, who are fleeing from persecution in other countries. Najarian’s piece, set in the area, speaks of older, easier channels of American immigration–and of natural phenomena well older than that. -ed.

GENEALOGY: NEAR KEMPTON, PA

The year that RFK and King were shot,

your father bought the last two hundred acres

from the youngest daughter of the German family

that tilled these hills for two fat centuries

They’d built a barn, plain red, (though when it rains,

the shadows of proud horses, names, and banners

push through the damp and show themselves), and added

a wooden summer kitchen to the house,

and earlier, the year of Gettysburg,

a set of rooms with foot-thick walls of rock.

Its core was laid by the Moravians

before the Revolutionary War,

they cleared the woods and tilled between the stumps,

put up a church—of which there is no trace,

not even a shallow, naked spot—and dug

a graveyard—now an unplowed bite of field.

The stones were carted off some years ago.

The Brethren whom they named remain in rows,

eroding as we speak, down to the ones

who died in combat with the Indians,

the Lenape, in the struggle for this land—

before those clans were flung beyond the ridges,

to Indiana, Kansas, and at last

to dessicated Oklahoma, dropping

the arrowheads that show like rocky shoots

at plowing, and the tonguing names of waters—

Saucony, Maxatawny, Tulpehocken.

A hundred people speak that language now.

What was this place before that time? The glaciers

palmed each valley, seam, and gully, leaving

the brittle tiers of greasy shale impressed

with the remains of vanished beasts and flowers.

Viewing them by the pond your father cut

is like perusing grimy photographs:

these are your ancestors, the trilobites—

your cousins, the bits of carapace and leaf

from when this farm took up the ocean floor.

But before that, where was this scrap of land?—

The universe could have been no more than

a pebble, cinder, or a grain of clay:

The black dot in your uncreated eye.

-2015

Monday’s Verse 6/1/2015

Dear readers,

Since former US poet laureate and current Emory professor Natasha Tretheway did such a crackerjack job introducing this poem in yesterday’s New York Times, I think I’m gonna let her handle the duties here today. This poem is one long sentence. -ed.

I first encountered Christopher Gilbert’s poems in his debut volume, published more than 30 years ago. I’ve been waiting for another installment of his particular vision ever since. This poem reads like a love letter to the world — always new to the keen observer. The pacing of the lines enacts the experience of witnessing what seems an ordinary event made extraordinary by the speaker’s attention.

On the Way Back Home

It’s a different world
now that we’ve found a doe dead, against
a late fall background crystalled with frost, steaming
still, in the middle of the two-lane as it goes
where the forest starts going west of the city,
while the feeling is as we hover hushed over her,
everything dark except for the florescent white
flashlight beam sheeming back from the various sleek
facets of her sad and useless beauty, she was
one of us though more like a fallen star
the three of us had wandered to witness,
her otherness a light from her eyes facing up
went no where, was all there on itself
existing as an end in itself, instructive so
we couldn’t follow it but we were compelled —
like refugees awaiting our turns to be
an absence happening, a promising effect —
to turn our gaze onto our absent selves,
to turn our attention into a thing
to inspect, and from this focus point, go out
wandering in our various directions.