Michael L. Newell
I have lived approximately one third of my life outside my home country of the United States. I have been a teacher, a professional actor, a federal bureaucrat, and a life long nomad, even here in the states. My work has appeared in sixty or so magazines in the states and a half dozen magazines in England. After a 27 year career as a secondary school English teacher, twenty of which were spent abroad, I retired to coastal Oregon 14 months ago where I lead a quiet life which includes walking five or six miles most days. I have had ten chapbooks and one book published, all of which are out of print.
Editor's Note: In an email to me, Michael wrote:
"The poem about Robert Bly was written in the late 1980s when I watched a Bill Moyers special about the Dodge Poetry Festival. Bly was reading onstage and a strange thing happened to my television. Suddenly Bly's face looked as though he had another pair of lips reading from the side of his face. It was eerie and confusing. After a few minutes, whatever was wrong with the television rectified itself. The image haunted me until I wrote about it."
for Robert Bly
It was the face within the face
that caught my eye. It was
the lips hidden deep within the cheek
that moved in their own buried time
speaking silent lines that rang
throughout a crowded hall calling,
"Listen listen listen. No one needs
ears or words to hear my music; no one
needs eyes to read my lips. All you need
is a heart and mind able to be still,
to breathe without utterance of sound,
to be so unutterably quiet that you can feel
a moth's wings stir the air beyond the locked window."
For one terrifying second I saw his flesh
dissolve and heard the clacking of bone
on grinning bone. I heard the eternal tone
we all will know alone in unknown space.
I groaned with the agony of a wounded animal
and the moment passed. It was just a hall filled
with people politely listening to words politely
uttered into a microphone.
No drama, no momentous occasion. Just a reading
of an ordinary poet's ordinary words.
=first published in A Stranger to the Land (Garden Street Press, 1997)
a blues note broken in the middle
the songbird in the brambles startled
into silence shame for the intrusion
all autumn I have wandered in search
of a music which would still this dull grief
for every person I see wandering alone
every child I see looking at the world
with a question unanswered question
every animal abandoned to wander
through traffic in search of death
every couple I see waving arms in
the cursing dance common among
the intimate at war their lips forming
phrases only they know to use
only they can die from only they can still
all autumn music has drifted from alleyways
when I follow there is no one and no sound
music has wafted from waterfronts when I arrive
there is only the rasp of a ferry’s horn through fog
music chuckles like a brook or stream from playgrounds
all I find are merry-go-rounds and swings in slow motion
and then the sound of a bird in full throat wild as Sonny Terry
whooping it up and blowing his blues harp to save life in praise
of life to be life and the bird stops me dead in my tracks
and I feel grief flowing out through my arms my feet begin to dance
I move faster I begin to run I am sprinting I am the wind
in search of this blessed sound this freedom this wisdom
this hope and I begin to shout and in mid-note the song stops...
what song is this
what song is this so sad
what song is this so sad it cheers
what song is this so sad it cheers and vanishes
who is this person so foolish he sits and waits for hours hoping
who sits and waits and begins to sing feathers growing beak forming
who hides in brambles to pour out lamentations easing a world’s fatigue...
-originally published in Bellowing Ark, circa 2003
©2015 Michael L. Newell