The Hush of the Very Good – Todd Boss’s Yellowrocket


I thought I am too busy to post anything on the blog, and yet like a faithful dog it waited. I thought I don’t have anything to say, I’m milked dry by my day gig, and yet I wanted to say something so you would not think I’d forgotten. I thought I’ll just share one poem that I love, and yet, I sat here for the last hour or more and reread all of Todd Boss’s collection Yellowrocket.

I had the good fortune to spend some time listening to Todd Boss last year at the Kachemak Bay Writers Conference (more on that later, sometime when I can wax rhapsodic about writers communing at the end of the Homer Spit). It was fun to watch him expound on what makes one poem tick and another flutter. He reminded me of his own poetry, lean, quick, and very very clever. Clever in a good way, a fascinating and crafted way.

So, I was going to pick one poem to share with you. And then I read them all. The top edge of the book is festooned with sticky-notes. I cannot decide. I cannot narrow it down to one favorite because in order for you to fully appreciate the smartness of his work, you’ll have to get a taste of the variety of his style. So here you go… three poems by Todd Boss. Buy his book and get to wallow in more of his work. I promise you: there’s not a dud in the bunch.

Blessed with Trump and Wild

or crap, but no less blessed,
my grandpas, when at last retired,
thumped the table card over card
at nickel-a-trick pinochle and
partners canasta, the same decks
pounded, bent, and shuffled soft

as their flannel shirts. As a boy,
they often held me on their laps,
their arms around me, so I could see
their hoards. Their buckles poked
and I fiddled with their braces.
I studied their hewn and stubbled
faces and watched them push
thick figures onto envelope backs
from a pencil nub, then rub them out
for a proper score. I had no words

for how it felt to sit so intimate with
kings, their hearts, their diamonds
fairly dripping through their knuckles
when they dealt. They’d handled
teams of horses in their time and
tilled a thousand acres roll on roll,
and raised whole families out of black
Wisconsin dirt, and on that map
I was a speck. A silt fault in the river.

I had no words for how I felt, nor
will I ever, for in that flicker naught
was said that couldn’t be said with
a click of a tongue or a snap of a
card or a snicker. Naught could be
bargained, either. Too soon, one
went out. And then, to a man, their
good hands folded and folded forever.

The Day Un-Dims

before it lightens,
like something

emerging. A fish
swims upwards

out of darkness
before it begins

to glimmer; so
day is drawn

from depth, as if
a morning were

just an idea
that nobody’s

quite yet hit upon.
And then, and

only then, does it

One Can Miss Mountains

and pine. One

can dismiss
a whisper’s

and go on as

before as if
everything were

perfectly fine.
One does. One

loses wonder
among stores

of things.
One can even miss

the basso boom
of the ocean’s

rumpus room
and its rhythm.

A man can leave
this earth

and take nothing
—not even

with him.

photo credit – isn’t it cheerful? almost like spring hasn’t disappeared altogether.

Coming Back


My backyard in a brief moment of clear weather

I sit here on the sofa listening to the snow slide in big wet chunks off of our metal roof. Each chunk settles with a impressive thud into the snow banks that surround the house. A few weeks ago we thought it was spring. Spring with little green buds and me walking around without gloves. Blissful spring. Then, last Friday we started to get snow, blizzard conditions, high winds (75 to 80 mph), snow dumping for days. Today we’re still locked in a horizontal snow condition. Our one school bus did not run, but we still had school.

In addition the snow coming back, the feeling in my lower lip is coming back. Today ended the dentistry odyssey that began right before Valentine’s Day when I cracked my tooth on a conversation heart. Yep, “UR Cute,” crack, ouch. This afternoon, the dentist fit the crown on my tooth and we called it good. I hope. My lips is tingling but so far, so good.

Also coming back is my ability to concentrate on poetry. For the past couple of weeks my vocation (teaching) has been seriously impacting my ability to carve out some time for my avocation (true love), poetry. I know that I should be able to manage my time better, but because of the rigors of small town teaching, I have five preps, seven classes, and over 120 students, including 16 AP Language and Composition students. Even if I only grade 15 minutes a week for each student, that adds up to 30 hours working outside of the classroom.

The third marking period ended today, and thus ends my grading frenzy. Last night and tonight, I have had time to read. I’ve been delving into Elizabeth Bradfield’s book of poems about polar explorers Approaching Ice. First of all, I have to admit that in my household, there is a plenty of material on arctic explorers. My husband reads quite a bit of it (having spent a season at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station) and we’ve watched several quite good documentaries on the subject. This holiday season, I purchased a new book The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton, and Antarctic Photography that had some amazing photographs by Herbert George Ponting and Frank Hurley.

Bradfield’s book of poetry is magnificently tight. Her research is apparent but not intrusive. The book is scaffolded by seven poems entitled “Notes on Ice in Bowditch” which explore the myriad forms of ice. The poems are not historical treatises; instead Bradfield uses history to lead the reader to examine the nature and impetus of exploration itself. And even if polar exploration is of no interest at all to you, you should read this collection for its masterful syntax and choice of detail.

Polar Explorer Frank Hurley, Photographer on Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition (1915)

One by one he lay the glass negative on ice
and squinted through their reversals. This one,
saved aside to be soldered into its tin box.
This one, smashed on the hard, white ground,
misgivings and reconsiderations
scattered and winking.

Yesterday, he’d broken into the cracking hull,
plunged shirtless into the slushy hold and fished out
what he could, heaved it up
onto the ice as Shackleton
tossed a gold watch, gold lighter, gold coins
onto the fissured surface before the makeshift camp,
telling the men they could take only two pounds
of unnecessary attachment from here. All of them

left something behind. But there, on the ground
that clenched and crushed their ship, they declared
what mattered most: silver nitrate
lyrics, spoken light.
He made shards
of some 400 plates then packed a few reels of motion
film, prints already made, and the 120 negatives left unbroken.

His to trudge and huddle with nearly half a year
on the ice shelf, to stuff into the dory’s bow
that pitched him for a week, to wait with
for rescue five months on Elephant Island.

He filmed the ship breaking, left the Prestwick No. 5
in its stand, slipped a small Kodak into his pocket
with thirty-eight more chances to curate what history
would be made in the unmapped time before him.

I don’t know how much what he left on the ice weighed
– broken glass, lenses, bellows stand, plate still camera, tripods –
or how heavy were the things he saved.

Has there ever been a better measure
of hope’s precise and illogical weight?

(Note: some of Bradfield’s line spacing has been lost due to HTML constraints)

Book Worm


When I was a child, my mother feared that I would ruin my eyes from reading too much. I read early and often, voraciously plowing my way through the school library and often visiting the public library as well. I read pretty much every book in my parents’ house, excepting the Civil War historical texts of which my father was so fond. It was no surprise that I became an undergraduate English major – I lingered for hours each weekend in the plentiful used bookstores that filled the little town of Ithaca. What luxury to spend the day going from store to store looking for the perfect novel or poetry collection.

Then I became an English teacher and learned how many children came from homes with no books. They often boasted that they had never seen their parents read. I became zealous about finding books that would turn on that love of reading that I had, and when I found the right book, I was often rewarded by the following remark, “This is the first book that I’ve ever read. Do you have another one just like it?” As I moved on through the world, I’ve worked as a librarian and book-seller. (Ah, how much I loved working in the bookstores surrounded by all those books just waiting to fall open into my hands…)

So I was amused to read Bibi van der Zee’s column in the Guardian – “A Week Without Books.” The horror! Who would voluntarily go without reading for an entire week? Although I’m not as fanatical as van der Zee (I only occasionally read while I cook), I can’t imagine what my life would be like without reading. Books surround me, in the many bookshelves, on the end table by the sofa (often piled six or seven deep), by the bed, in the bathroom, on the kitchen table. Alas, I have a little problem with books: I rarely find one in which I can’t find something to like.

I am fascinated by the comments to the column as well. The commenters seem equally divided into kindred spirits and those who chastise van der Zee for her addiction and suggest that she get help. In a world with an increasing emphasis on speed, I am comforted by the fact that there are still people who are willing to slow down enough to read a book. To let an alternate world scroll out before their eyes and in their minds. I am grateful for the authors and poets that have lovingly put those words to the page, worrying over them and cherishing them. I know that I treat my own writing this way – like a parent who only wants to see my words go out into the world and do something good.

Go on over to the Guardian and let Bibi van der Zee know what you think of her column. Or better yet, leave a comment here about your own reading habits. Come on, I confessed to the books by the toilet, and in a recent blog post to the fact that my husband has been forced to build bookshelf after bookshelf to house my ever-growing book collection. Join me in affirming your love for the book – even in the age of the Kindle and the Nook – long may they reign.

Picture credit