By Death

By Death
By Pattiann Rogers

In that moment she became two, one sitting
among the red flags of the blackbirds
in the reeds, the other standing fixed
like a poplar in a fence of poplars.

In the next second, there were four
of her, one watching evening from the sill
beside the bed, another laced through the night-
spaces between the fireflies.

In a further splitting, she was eight,
and in the next sixteen, one blue
by paper lantern, one amethyst by evening
smoke, one ringed like ice by a winter
moon, one ringed like a lily pond by rain,
one marked by murder, one veined
by acquittal.

And there were thirty-two of her then
and again sixty-four, and she was simultaneously
over a plain of summer cress and under
a reef of evening coral, within a knob
of shyster thistle, within a bud of thresher
shark, sailing by roots of bony fish,
soaring by fins tamarack and phlox.

With the next turning she became
a hundred and twenty-eight of himself, groomed
the horse of Orion, dwelled in the light-remnant
of Vela.  She was wind through the scaffold
of pity, a nesting owl among the eaves of praise.
Then two hundred fifty-six– she was stone as well,
and zephyr, then legion, then too various
to be reckoned, too pervasive to be noticed,
too specific to be named.

from Firekeeper: Selected Poems


Recent Random Reading Recommendations

1. Image resultThe Nix, by Nathan Hill.
I think the general thought about this big American novel is that it’s author is about to be really famous. And with good reason.

2. Gentleman of the Road, by Michael Chabon.
This little tale of two unlikely grifters traveling the Silk Road is exuberant. I can practically picture Chabon reveling in the zip and twirl of his euphoric language like a dog  rolling in the sunny grass. I’ll let The Times give you the gist.

3. The Roundhouse, by Louise Erdrich.
I love Louise Erdrich and the rich border communities she creates between time, space, and generations of intersecting families on and off reservations in Minnesota and North Dakota. Roundhouse is part coming-of-age, part mystery, centering around a family left drifting after a mother’s brutal rape. The book may have less magical realism than some of her other novels, but the devastation, the complicated relationships, the humor and heart are all there, singing.

Image result4. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
I recommend listening to Sherman read his new memoir/tribute to/exorcism of his late mother and the complicated relationship they shared. It’s honest and tragic and hopeful, and being Sherman, often hilarious, and there’s something about hearing it told in his own voice that makes it all the more moving. People have called him brave for writing it, and you can tell it was a necessary, but exhausting task… a processing that has not ended. As soon as I finished I picked up his award-winning young adult novel, and it was interesting to see how the autobiographical parts were rendered into a kind of fiction.

5. River Teeth, by David James Duncan.
A poignant mix of short stories and personal essays, brief remembrances and thoughtful musings, often funny, always artful. For anyone who has ever lost someone and waded through eddies of swirling grief, “The Mickey Mantle Koan” is essential reading.

Image result6. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.
So I finally read it. And yes, it’s pretty great, even though parts of it scared the shit out of me now that I have two sons, and really don’t want to see any Cain and Abel action broiling in years to come. And even though the only memorable female character was a dead-eyed sociopath, I was deeply moved by the concept of Timshel and a person’s struggle for meaning and good work and free will. And I wish Lee lived in my house. Thou mayest. 

7. Theft By Finding, 1977-2002, 
by David Sedaris.
Unlike his previous books of polished essays, Theft By Finding is a collection of fragment observations taken from a 25-year-goldmine of old journal entries (most of them pre-fame). At first I missed the structure and arc of his traditional essays, but soon enough appreciated these random gems for what they were. Sedaris has always had a knack for noticing weird things and getting himself into bizarre interactions with odd people, which is reliably entertaining. The entries also helped clear up some questions I’ve wondered about related to his personal timeline. Anyway, I’ll probably continue to read anything this guy writes, forever.

Bear Safe

That particular feeling when you see yourself and some friends on a poster advocating bear spray…

My Son Asks for the Story about When We Were Birds

My Son Asks for the Story about When We Were Birds
By Joe Wilkins

When we were birds,
we veered & wheeled, we flapped & looped—

it’s true, we flew. When we were birds,
we dined on tiny silver fish
& the watery hearts
of flowers. When we were birds,

we sistered the dragonfly,
brothered the night-wise bat,

and sometimes when we were birds,

we rose as high as we could go—
the light cold & strange—

& when we opened our beaked mouths

sundown poured like wine
down our throats. 

When we were birds
we worshipped trees, rivers, mountains,

sage knots, rain, gizzard rocks, grub-shot dung piles,

&, like all good beasts & wise green things,

the mothering sun. We had many gods
when we were birds,

& each in her own way
was good to us, even winter fog,

which found us huddling
in salal or silk tassel,
singing low, sweet songs & closing
our blood-rich eyes & sleeping
the troubled sleep of birds. Yes,

even when we were birds,
we were sometimes troubled & tired,

sad for no reason,

& so pretended we were not birds
& fell like stones—

the earth hurtling up to meet us,
our trussed bones readying
to be shattered, our unusually large hearts
pounding for nothing—

yet at the last minute we would flap
& lift, & as we flew, shudderingly away,

we told ourselves that this falling—

we would remember. We thought

we would always
be birds. We didn’t know.

We didn’t know
we could love one another

with such ferocity. That we should.