In Volume 12 (2014) of Kansas City Voices, my poem, “Ways of the Wind,” inspired by a vivid image described by poet Xanath Caraza in a few lines of her poem, “Matilde en la Hamaca,” appeared on page 74. I am reprinting it here as an example of the use of an epigraph and how that epigraph can illuminate the interplay between the visions of two poets.
Ways of the Wind
“There she was
In her yellow dress
And her hair open to adventure…”
– Xanath Caraza, from the poem
“Matilde en la Hamaca”
The wind had its way with her hair,
made it flow and twist, turned
its movements liquid, its strands
currents of streams braiding
the valley of the Brahmaputra.
The wind had its way with her hair,
brushed it with bergamot
oils from Calabria,
bathed it in the moist breaths
of benedictions, prayers
for intercession mouthed by
processions of faithful
in the plaza Catedral Basílica
de la Virgen de la Asunción.
The wind had its way with her hair,
used it, strand by strand, to catch
all the hues of a Sinai sunset,
as if it were yarn carded
for a coat of many colors.
The wind had its way with her hair,
sent it searching the leniency
of her neck, the Sahara slopes of
her shoulders, had it conform
to its caresses, its advances, its
countless ways with love.
– Roy Beckemeyer
Thanks to Nancy Julien Kopp for her reminder to us all to write down our Christmas memories for our children and grandchildren. Here is my 2010 poem, “Christmas Interregnum.”
Looking like the last
Of the three Magi
My brother trudges through snow
Behind our two sisters.
His left mitten
Tethered to him
By yarn the color
Of the cedars of Lebanon.
A rookery of nuns
Awaits us in the schoolyard,
The black of their
Black and white habits
Stark against the white,
The white blending with the snow.
Black veils over white wimples
Make them look like
The penguins in our geography books.
Morning Mass is full of the smells
Of evergreen boughs and beeswax,
Incense and wet wool,
And the lemony oil our mothers used
To wax the pews.
We stand, sit and kneel
With our hands folded
While the snowflakes
Studding our caps and coats
Slump and melt,
Beading our clothes with droplets
That briefly encapsulate
The warm light of Christmas candles
In their round cold wetness
Before dripping off
To puddle on the slate floor.
We watch the wasted brilliance
Of winter’s first snow;
Having to go to school
A whole half-day
Before the holiday vacation
Is penance enough
Without this purgatory.
But the wait for morning recess
Is just a small preview,
Of the longer wait awaiting us
On Christmas Eve.
At last Sister Michael takes up
The hand bell.
Holding it in both hands,
She fills the hall
With its brass reverberations
And we are rescued,
Resuscitated by recess.
The ceremony of pulling on
Still-wet coats and mittens,
That tie under our chins,
And squeaky-wet galoshes,
Is completed in record time.
We all know that
Snow down the neck
Awaits any slowpoke straggler.
Facing an untrodden school yard
In black rubber boots
Is like having
A clean white page of paper
And a newly sharpened
Ticonderoga # 2 pencil in your hand.
The pent-up pressure
Of seventy-three kids
In single-file best-behavior
In the nun-lined hallways
Propels us out the door
And down the steps
Into a jostling chaos
Of splendid, snowy exuberance.
Soon snow angels
And snow-tag wheels
And names written in snow
Are everywhere and the snow
That isn’t packed down by feet
Is filling up boots,
Being rubbed in faces,
Rolled into balls
Or flung into the air.
By the time Father Schoen arrives.
Smelling of cigars and mothballs,
With the cold outside air still clinging
To his black clothes,
Our splotchy red cheeks,
Still cold as snowballs,
Are the only sign of recess
Remaining in the classroom.
He will quiz us on the Catechism,
Twisting the cheeks of those
Who can’t answer correctly,
Or quickly enough,
Between his thumb and index finger,
Marking them as the reddest
Of the red cheeked students
Of St. Anthony’s Parochial School.
At long last noon arrives,
And with it St. Nicholas,
By Sister Michael’s bell.
His red vestments and red mitre
And golden crosier
Light the classroom
Like a blazing Yule-log.
He gives us each a gift:
A brown paper bag
Holding a juicy fresh orange,
A polished red apple,
A candy cane,
And a picture of the Nativity scene,
Blessed by St. Nicholas himself.
Then he makes the Sign of the Cross
Over our heads with his
Ringed right hand,
Blessing us as well.
Going home, we can no longer tell
The street from the sidewalk,
The sidewalk from the yards,
And after a block
It is so cold
That the snow does not melt
As it falls thickly onto our treat bags.
Children drift off
In all directions,
Bundles of dark wool,
Against the bright whiteness.
My brother calls out
“Wait for me”
To my sisters;
His mitten is again
Tobogganing behind him
As he catches snowflake
In his small bare hand,
Delighting in each unique,
The air is full of snowflakes,
Full of the smell
Of the freshly broken orange in my hand,
Full at last of the promise,
The familiar and longed-for
Reign of Christmastime.
by Roy Beckemeyer, December, 2010
Posted December, 2015
My poetry book, “Music I Once Could Dance To,” published last year by Coal City Press, is now in its fourth printing. We have added a note about the book having been selected as a 2015 Kansas Notable Book.
I will be reading from the book at the Kansas Book Festival in Topeka on September 12th. My reading takes place at 2:00pm.
Please come and join in the festivities.
Review of the poetry book:
Standing on the Edge of the World by Lindsey Martin- Bowen, 2008, Woodley Memorial Press, Topeka, KS, ISBN 978-0-939391-44-8, 92 pp., $10.00
“The night is Dresden…” reads the opening line of Lindsey Martin-Bowen’s poem, Working Toward the Last Line, as she compares the arcing flashes, sparks, and chaos of downed tree limbs and power lines in a raging Kansas ice storm to a WWII firestorm. She uses such apt but unexpected allusions throughout this book, enriching her poems and expanding our perception of her poetic vision. This is work of sumptuous insight and surprising conjunctions. In one of my favorite poems in this book, Hanging Out in the Student Center, Martin-Bowen juxtaposes Lorca, Caravaggio, Borges, and Ferlinghetti, who comprise a strange enough crowd in themselves, then places them against the streets and landmarks of Kansas City Missouri: Troost Avenue, Swinney Gym, Country Club Plaza. And, by God, they all seem to belong there; you find yourself wanting her to text you so you can follow her down those streets the next time she gets them all together.
Martin-Bowen is as effective in making magic of our prosaic small town back yards (“…an old tire swing moans empty,” from Dancing with Aunt Virginia) as she is in showing us the wonders of the world. Here is how she sees classic Italian statues: “…I think about / how Michelangelo freed their forms, / how their eyes have no pupils. / They stare into the future / without flinching / and show no regret.” (from the poem Statues).
The book is divided into four sections: Seasonscapes, Another Place in this World a Woman Can Walk, Two Brown Bears Dancing, and Beyond the Vanishing Point. There are rich gifts to be found in each section, but I wish to focus next on some of the poems that appear in the last.
I am particularly attracted to the way in which Martin-Bowen can bring Biblical characters to life with layered depth and fierce vitality. Peter’s Wife asks: “How could you abandon me for a man? / … you won’t live in Capernaum again. / You won’t fish again. You won’t drink again. / We’ll no more share our strange sin, / this earthy love.”
And listen as myrrh-bearer Mary Magdalen Rebukes Peter: “… / At our gatherings, / you boast of your loyalty / and call me a whore / who will destroy him. / But he knows your game: / when I wail at his grave, you will / deny you walked with him, / deny you slept with him, / deny you knew his name.”
In The Madonna she captures the essence of all the lovely Marian icons we have ever seen “… / I shiver above flames / in tiny red and blue jars / … / My son stepped through fire. / It darted from the eyes of throngs / that had fanned him with palms / the week before… / …I give off no sweet scent. / It’s the candles’ perfume that fills the nostrils / of seekers who fall prostrate. / Far from my fingers, they bend / too low to touch.”
Pick up a copy of Lindsey Martin-Bowen’s book. Read it. Here are words that will remind you what an exquisite combination we humans are of the spiritual, the passionate, the proud, and the profane. Hers is the work of a perceptive and extraordinary poet.
– Roy Beckemeyer, 24 June, 2015
In Loving Memory
Size seems about right. It’ll fit in anyone’s shirt pocket so they will be able to carry it around, run it through the laundry by accident, and then finally forget me, wash off any residual grief. Symbol has me stumped. Jayhawk, WuShock, Flying Billikin, maybe an airplane or a dragonfly or a corkscrew. Yeah, let’s go with the dragonly. It looks sort of like a cross and will be both natural, fitting, and as close to religious as I got. Should the photo be studious or serious or happy? I don’t know, but I think I would like a shit-eating grin (forgive me, Father) so everyone who looks at it wonders what I was up to. I would like to write the poem, and since I don’t know when I will be needing the card, let me do the custom text now:
Small town boy met small town girl raised
small town kids hiked and travelled and
moved to the city and built airplanes and
made wine and square danced and acted
pretty much like an adult most of the time
and then like a kid for the rest of the time
and was in love for nearly the whole time
and right up to the end for sure and went
to church as a kid and young man and hopes
and prays that won’t keep him out of heaven
since he did try to be and do good but that
doesn’t work according to some theologists
and so pray for him if you think it might do
some good, ya’ll, if you want to and have
the time, otherwise don’t worry. Amen.
And please look through those 1500 images in 20 different categories and find a nice picture of the sky. I always liked sky pictures, and there was sky everywhere I ever went.
– Roy Beckemeyer
Review of the poetry book:
“Autochthonous: Found in Place” by Dan Pohl with Illustrations by Jessie Pohl, 2014, ISBN 978-0985458669, Woodley Press, Topeka, Kansas
Dan Pohl’s “Autochthonous: Found in Place,” is a paean to his home state, Kansas, its inhabitants, his circle of family and friends. True to its title, the book focuses on the sense of Place that characterizes poetry from the heartland at its best. Phrases like “explorers came when the stars looked younger,” and “…field / Stones, picked out to plow a good life,” bring us into the fold of those who made this prairie what we see today, gave it its names, showed us all the ways they had prepared it for us. He offers advice and aid to those travelers who hurry through the wind-blown plains, never willing to take the time to see what one has to look a bit harder to find. In these pages he takes them by the hand, provides “the answer, hard enough to stamp lines / Onto the outside corners of their eyes.” Oh, and what telling answers he gives, patient, generous, insightful in the wisdom he gleans from the everyday, the phenomenal, the rare, the commonplace.
With images of prairie dogs burrowing “deep into their Kansas seas…Centuries deep,” and haylofts as “the ship keel of / Trusses,” he invites us to see with new eyes what we thought we knew. He is not afraid to build with his words on the page not only a metaphorical image, but a graphic picture. In “The Rule,” a simple story/fable of “Children…Quickly learn to step / To the side To climb the slope…for a softer / Smoother glide For the common / Good,” we can hold the page an arm’s length away and see two columns of staggered word steps bounding either side of the clean sledding path that runs down the center of the page. A brilliant example of “concrete” poetry at its most subtle and compelling.
The poetry here appeals to all the senses. “Saying Grace” enshrines home cooking and sends you to pulling pots out of the pantry looking for the deep fryer. After reading “Poet Elliott’s Advice…” we rush outside and put our ear to the corner light pole to share “its cark cello hum…a low-frequency Hindu ‘Om’.” In “Hidden Membership” we are made party to the secret life of a church’s folding chairs, and we feel their discomfort beneath our rumps as the meeting drones on.
It is with moments taken from familiar events of everyday life that Dan reveals his love for life and for his family. In “Feeding After Four,” he tires of shopping before his wife does, stops to watch fish in an aquarium, catches a pair of turtles feeding: “…his companion, who / Softly, tenderly, slides behind him / And slips her long slender neck / Under his left side near his heart. / She wedges under his jaw and pressures / Against his red-striped nose to snatch / His bit of bread as lovers often do.” He takes us, with those simple last four words, from the mundane to the sublime so quickly, so unexpectedly.
And occasionally Dan Pohl will take you further afield, to more exotic places, as well. Close your eyes and you are on a river steamer on the Niger: “The patient river rusted away / The name, each day the captain / Double drunk by noon” (from the poem “Fangs and Water at Kanthuri, 1890”). In “Lover’s Moment,” he writes: “I ride the bus to San Mida / The journey ends before me / I will run what I can / Though the wind will need to help / Raise your wish on Salida’s Hill.”
Below those words is a delicate pen and ink sketch of a kite dancing in the air. Scattered through the book are drawings by Dan’s daughter, Jessie. They embody her interpretation of her father’s words, show how those words float in her mind the way this kite floats in the sky. This book of poems is more than most: it contains a father’s words embellished and burnished to a brighter hue by his daughters sketches.
All in all, you could not do much better than to pick up a copy of this book, take it outside into the morning along with a steaming cup of coffee, and find yourself.
– Roy Beckemeyer
Matins, midnight’s bout of prayer,
by yawning monks kneeling there,
eyes half closed, or all the way,
hoping for the break of day.
Lauds‘ laudatory monks, alert,
warmed by the sun, all assert
their blessings, state them to and fro,
no need for rooster’s morning crow.
At Terce, thrice now the prayers have rung,
the blessings chanted, the psalms sung.
The monks, all now fully awake,
bellow their prayers for all our sakes.
Sext is when the monks all ask
blessings on these gifts, the tasks
of kitchen cooks. These monks, cowled,
just men like us whose stomachs growl.
None the hour after the lunch,
when eyes again, I have a hunch,
get heavy-lidded and partly close
against the sun’s bright pm glow.
At Vespers the candles are brightly lit
and day’s end comes to the pews to sit.
Monks ponder charity and bits of grace,
till contentment falls on each one’s face.
Compline marks the end of day,
“Now I lay me down,” they say
These monks, serene, now each has found
peace as the liturgical hours go ’round.
– Roy Beckemeyer, April, 2014
This poem was an exercise for a poetry workshop I am leading called “Poetry by Sevens,” in which we write poems inspired by some subjects typically grouped in sevens. For example, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Seven Dwarves, the Seven Deadly Sins, etc. This one used the Seven Hours of Liturgical Prayer. I tried to think of monks as just men, not some sublime praying creatures.
The illustration is from Wikimedia Commons and is a self portrait of a 13th Century Benedictine monk, Matthaeus Parisiensis.
Poetry Month American Cinquains (A five-line poetic form in which lines 1 through 4 have 2, 4, 6, and 8 syllables, respectively, and line 5 has 2 syllables).
April 1 (inspired by a drive through the Flint Hills after prairie spring burns):
woven among black ash
remnants, fiery tweed of renewed
April 2 (inspired by a Kim Stafford reading at Watermark Books, a William Stafford Centennial event):
Might it be genetics?
Talent passed from father to son?
April 3 (inspired by this also being Jazz Appreciation Month):
swing notes, two-four,
sevenths, ninths, elevenths, thirteenths.
April 4 (inspired by the first thunderstorm of the spring):
Out at the edge
Of hearing. The clearing
Of a storm’s throat, a stage whisper:
Pen. Letters. Elegance.
poem is always
fun but then there must be
some scheme or logic, rationale,
all that blood, corpuscles –
white and red – and plasma. The stuff
our feet breathing softly
what more could we need in old age
perch in clusters
on pear trees like close friends
bees flit, flirt, hum as petals start
is a comin’
another check I’ll write
not enough deductions for a
heck are April’s
showers? Here comes young May,
looking to plant flowers. Too dry?
A – P –
R – I – L – T –
H – I – R – T – E – E –
N – T – H – April Thirteenth –
catch snow, don’t scowl,
stand sturdy and strong, tall,
but think of Amsterdam in spring,
of blood red moon
old earth’s shadow once more
makes the moon’s visage dimly blush,
with an iPhone
takes patience, eyesight, small
fingers, I have learned – then again,
day in the past
Thornton Wilder was born.
Gairrison Keillor told us this
Crucifixion and death.
God’s Friday, Pious Friday, Good
cardiology. I prefer
Mornings the sun
rises, brimming over
with forgiveness, atonement for
Color with abandon
Every day of every spring.