I spent many years walking the deserts and climbing the mountains of Southern California. Now I spend time in the Eastern Forests from Maryland to Vermont and practice woodworking near the Anacostia River. I hold a PhD in Writing from the University of Houston. My poetry collections are The Structure of Desire (Little Red Tree 2012) winner of a 2013 Nautilus Award in Poetry, a chapbook, The Language of Birds (Finishing Line 2011) and a forthcoming collection, The Book of Maps. Recent honors include the National Hackney Literary Award in Poetry, Lindberg Foundation International Poetry for Peace Prize (in Israel), and Potomac Review Prize. My work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Asian Cha and Aesthetica. Currently I work in Washington, DC. and am an associate fiction editor at JMWW. More at: wflantry.com.
Editor's Note: When I came upon "Seed" in Valparaiso Poetry Review, I knew it would be perfect for Verse-Virtual. I wrote to W.F. Lantry for permission to reprint it — and the rest (including four more poems!) is history.
I lined the snowcapped rail with old seed.
Strange birds descended through the frozen air
and warmed themselves on branches robed in ice.
Their feathers, amber, ringed with dark surrounds,
held back this cold. My minor sacrifice,
that seed, was all they knew. I felt aware
through them of how the wind swept branches clear.
I watched their shadows fade and reappear,
and saw their wings spread out to the low sun.
Dreaming of other places, of small storms
passing through fenced-in forests, out of bounds
to me, remembering how woven forms
of branches wreathe those wingbeats as they spin
in time, above our own limbs, and include
within their dance the rhythm we pursued.
And if both wings and branches capture grace
but hold us half away, we can but gaze,
sightless, as one who hears a silent sound.
Delighted by its measures, we can praise
the unknown source, distant, we can embrace
the wing, the branch, the cold wind, and be freed.
-First published in Valparaiso Poetry Review
"Here, while good fortune and our youth allow..."
Look there: the forest, leafed now with its green
exuberance of budding lobes renews
itself and us whenever we can gaze
with something like clear eyes on all its forms
holding a moment in our sight, as if
instants could last forever if we look
closely enough: once, in a blizzard I
descended a long slope much like this hill
while snow clung to the windward side of boughs
contrasting with rough bark of sycamores
and saw her, brushing drifts away in blue—
her scarf a wave of silk on the white shore—
or once, in January, when the clear
new wind had swept its coldest air across
the polished granite of a harbored bench
and she, in chiseled sunlight, clear as glass
her sharp outlines defined by scrimshawed scenes
leaned forward, as her jewelled eyes engaged
my own a moment, burned to memory:
if we walk now into this midspring wood
where oak and locust merge their woven leaves
creating hidden shade, and if she turns
a moment towards me in her gold thread blouse,
grant me clear eyes to hold her in my mind.
“Visionary” first appeared in String Poet.
An old, grizzled poet, whose name one knows
but can’t recall — you’d maybe recognize
his books if I could bring titles to mind —
stands reading from collages. His technique
involves lifting from others: he would find
a single line, or two, and improvise
connections building stanzas easily.
Outside, through plate glass windows, I can see
among gray cross-hatched willow branches, snow
just starting, swirling spirals formed of flakes
wind-driven, beautiful against the bleak
backdrop of leafless twigs. When wind shakes
lithe branches whole limbs merge to chaos, flow
with ice and wind in patterns, shadowed, bare.
Inside, his voice continues. Unaware
the storm’s already here, he recollects
snippets of reading, everything he’s heard
and thought to keep, the jewels he would seek:
stanzas, rhythms, spare hints, a single word
repeated gently, as one genuflects
in reverence, at Politics & Prose.
I did not know her when my train traversed
the marshes of her youth, the quiet Sound
with east and west across the water, slipped
in reverence by corniched houses or
those summer gardens soon to fill with snow.
I did not know those beaches had been hers,
they seemed so foreign, not like ones I’d known
in my lost years at windandsea: the long
horizon without end, dark cliffs and swells
that ran a thousand miles undisturbed
to oleanders drinking up the spray
hibiscus limed with salt. Our shaking earth
seems even now so far from granite spurs
it’s hard to see both on one continent.
But we have these in common: sand and wind
and stories half remembered pouring out
in early afternoons, or late at night
when sand and snow seem one in patterned drifts:
black as her eyes the weathered granite glimpsed
from moving windows or the western night
her lips the red of ocotillos or
of eastern august fireweed, and white
as birch or desert willow her strong legs
as she walks toward me in winter bloom.
Our snows arrive, winter roars on with ice,
breaking old elms and smothering these paths,
still altering the river and the earth
and slowing our December interplay.
Between North wind and drifts there is no dance.
We were not born for this. Frost follows thaw
condemning us to life within lit walls
when all should be a blossoming. We knew
but yesterday, Priapus in his realm,
Venus in hers, parting the laurel hedge
and St. Fiacre irrigating beds
of roses, lilies, goldenrod: my love,
who knows what sun will break above the ledge
tomorrow, or what moon illuminates
our lovemaking at dawn? Therefore, consume
me with your ardor, passionately weave
a tapestry of dancing limbs, our two
bodies in motion, reminiscent while
the earth outside, still and forgetful, cloaks
all memories of spring beneath its snows.
“Against Horace” first appeared online in Snakeskin.
©2015 W.F. Lantry