A native of Johnstown, NY, I retired in June 2016 after 29 years of teaching writing and literature at Ripon College in Wisconsin. I've published six collections of poetry, including Stutter Monk and Second Wind; I also co-edited (with Kate Sontag) the essay anthology After Confession: Poetry as Confession. Essays, reviews, and individual poems have appeared widely, both in print and online. In recent years I've spent nearly as much time on photography as poetry. A gallery of my work is online here: http://instagram.com/doctorjazz
Editor's Note: In his submission letter to me, David wrote: "You'll notice I quote someone named Brent Goodman in a couple of these poems. He is a former student of mine, and a living embodiment of the truism that teachers often learn a great deal from their students. Every April for the past six years, Brent and I have been celebrating National Poetry Month by swapping poems back and forth every day. The five I include here are all from this year's exchange."
Elegy for Jim Harrison (1937-2016)
He smoked the same damn cigarette for sixty years,
like a tribesman carefully carrying the holy fire
from one hut to the next, and the next, his whole life.
Of course it wasn’t the same cigarette, really,
any more than the river would pause for him
to take its photograph. No, but it was surely one fire,
smoldering through a long and crooked life, its
beginnings lost to dust and its end now too. What it
meant—did he realize near the end?—was the burning.
The Four Elements
Some say God is light,
some say a fire within—
in any case some heat
must either warm or burn.
I’m more inclined to feel
God as wind, the touch
either blessing or disaster,
and in either case invisible
except for the results.
But today I feel God
must be water, restless
and ever-flowing, all
our rivers leading to sea,
and the sea, in turn,
sending bounty skyward
to begin the journey anew.
Of course these are merely
notions, ways of putting
the mysteries no one knows.
In my deep heart I feel
God resides, if anywhere,
in simple earth, the dirt
we are and shall be, slipping
through our own fingers.
Open or Closed
Open or closed, my eyes see the same
Going or coming, I will feel the rain
in my face, the unsettling slip
of my boots in the leaf-slick muddy path.
Running across the forest floor
or bolting into the sky, the wild turkey
has but one opinion of me, with which
I agree. Sometimes I close my eyes
to perch on a fallen tree’s softening trunk
and let the woods say what it will.
Scent of moss, fungus, and fern.
Scrabble of a squirrel up a nearby oak.
A chickadee calling somewhere out
of sight, and, farther off, a woodpecker
knocking and knocking, as if to be let in
to someone’s suddenly empty house.
All This Beautiful Sadness!
All this beautiful sadness! How deep does the trail curve into the mystery, and where will we ever find the words?
-Brent Goodman, “Yuugen”
All these heartbreaking dawns that lead into birdsong and trucks idling,
exhaust fans and wind in the power lines, all these dishes washed
until they cannot be seen, all these friends scattered across the map
like dandelion seeds, with their typical smiles and things they often say,
all the stories that poured forth and still pour forth like wine in a fable,
no one ever passing out or finding a lump that shouldn’t be there,
no one shrieking at the moon or breaking a foot kicking parked cars,
all the mall walkers, interstate truckers, bicyclists and backpackers,
commuters, train passengers, crop dusters, and mail carriers
passing and vanishing like nothing but themselves, and all the dust
ashine in the twilight with apparent but elusive meaning, not to mention
all the sandhill cranes with their loopy hopping prairie dances
and prehistorical clattering calls, all these million hours spent sputtering
in the left turn lane or waiting for the Beloved to pick up the damn phone,
all our books read once and then carefully shelved till their pages
shall turn quietly blank as the passing wind, and all these trails
in the woods curving and looping back on themselves like the route
a boy will take when no one is looking, not even the other boys—
so like the path of a mouse in the sodden grass beneath the snow,
revealed only in spring and soon swallowed and forgotten by new grass—
Yes, all these beautiful people with no idea how lovely they are,
and all their gawky kids who think things could not get worse,
and then of course they do, till long years later when they finally
realize how beautiful they once were, which makes them happy,
in a sad sort of way, as well as sad with the kind of sorrow
that flares across the sky at sunset like a plane’s contrail,
gorgeous and impossible as it slowly expands, then fades into night.
The Knock at My Window
At the exact moment when my kayak
lifts off the sand bar, and I feel
that current ancient as fire take me,
then I know my true place
in the flowing world. I know how
it is all supposed to be, and what
the prophets and genius children
have been yammering about, what
my dog knows but cannot say,
how the wind chooses which house
to splinter and scatter across the corn
and which one to spare, who the stranger
in the woods really was, and what
the knock at my window far
after midnight must have meant.
Yes, and I gazed down into that dark
and there she was: white with moonlight--
part of me thought she beckoned,
calling me down to her dark, her light,
while another part knew she was just
dancing to music I could never hear.
©2016 David Graham