June 26, 2018

Lynne Knight


white apples and the taste of stone
—Donald Hall, “White Apples”

The old master is dead,
his gravestone already marked
with lines from a poem

by his wife, whose peonies
blossomed and toppled outside
while he lay in hospice.

Soon his granddaughter will live
in the ancestral house looking out
at blue Mount Kearsarge.

The curved ribs of old horses
buried in the field will again yield
their crop of goldenrod.

Dark clouds over Eagle Pond
turn white as the taste of stone,
white as white apples.

from Poets Respond


Lynne Knight: “I spent much of Sunday mourning the death of Donald Hall, who taught me much of what I know about poetry when I was his student at the University of Michigan. Much later, we had a correspondence over twenty years that sometimes included the exchange of poems. I’ve been re-reading some of his letters, and I came upon this: ‘I want the poem to be as hard as a piece of sculpture, and as immovable, and as resolute, and as whole. I want every word in it to be absolutely inevitable … but another part of the requirement, by and large, is that it should not seem so.’ Then he quoted Yeats: ‘A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought …’ His letter begins: ‘I love talking about this stuff.’ Donald Hall gave so much to the world of letters that I wanted to mark his death with a small poem that evokes his life and work, borrowing his image in the last two lines (“white apples and the taste of stone”). I don’t know if this poem does evoke him, but among many, many other things, he taught me to be persistent.” (web)

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July 13, 2017

Jennifer Rane Hancock


in memoriam, Brent Doeden July 10, 2017

Captain Earthman is dead. At the end of the
Anthropocene, as we await Thor: Ragnarok,
as an iceberg the size of Delaware
falls from Antarctica like a doomed hero,
our angels have also fallen. Bowie
would have asked whose shirt he wore.
These last days, and aren’t all days these days
last days, we who need hope texted him:
246 R12 beers pls.
And he came,
from as far away as first base, as far away
as Earth, man, where baseball used to be
green. He came with our beers and our hope
that the fires in Arizona won’t touch
Talking Stick. And beer and hope
are all we have now, these last days of baseball,
as Arizona burns and California, Utah,
and Colorado burn and keep burning
through irrigated and stadium-lit fields.
Brent Doeden
told the Denver Post he’d like
to die abducted by aliens. He knew the thin,
clear air above Red Rocks, could jog
the steps with twenty beers when he was young.
So he’d know. He’d say take me home, guys.
I’ve spend enough time here and they haven’t
learned anything. Peace, love, all that hippie
shit on my harness pins, the rainbow flags
in my Rockies cap.
And we who need
hope more than beer will text numbers his
daughter will read in Hawaii: 119 R3. 211 R9.
Coordinates in baseball as important
as the 6-4-3 double play. They mean us.
We. Here.
  In the safety of Coors Field,
while the world burns and Bowie’s voice
on vinyl floats through the open windows
in Capitol Hill where the Beats used to beatnik.
Captain Earthman has boarded the mothership
and we who need anything and everything
but will settle
for beer are waiting
for him through the last days of baseball,
which are the last days of cool spring
training games and rain-drenched post-seasons,
the last days of our time here on earth.

Poets Respond
July 13, 2017

[download audio]


Jennifer Rane Hancock: “I’m writing a series of poems about how baseball will be affected by climate change. Captain Earthman, Brent Doeden, was a vendor at Coors Field (as well as Mile High, Red Rocks, and spring training games in Arizona). His death hit me hard, as he always reminded me of my dad who died four years ago. They were both fascinated with space, and consummate performers. Dad would have made a great beer vendor. Captain Earthman leaves us to watch the game change as the earth changes, and we are at a loss, a lack of political will, to do anything about it. I don’t know if he was an environmentalist. Likely not. He was an entertainer first and foremost. But in the week of his death, both Mayor Hancock of Denver (no relation) and Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper both pledged to uphold the Paris Accords in defiance of President Trump’s position. All of those things coming together, as we deal with one of the worst fire season in the west in years, led to this poem.” (website)

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July 8, 2015

Greg Kosmicki


In Memoriam, J.W.

It’s 1:30 a.m. or so, and a little while ago
I ate a banana.
I got up from the kitchen table
and dropped the peeling into the trash can
then ate an orange that I peeled
all in a long continuous strip
and dropped that in the trash too.
The orange, like all oranges,
was tart and burned my dry winter lips
a little when I ate it.

Whenever I peel an orange that way
I think of this guy I used to know
at my job who was a nice guy
but on the opposite end of the spectrum
from me politically.
He used to peel his oranges
then hang the skin
on the wall of his cubicle.
I never asked him about it
but guessed he did that
because there was always
only one fresh orange peel spiral
hanging from his cubicle wall.

He was a guy who believed in a literal
interpretation of the Bible
however it was that his preacher
happened to literally interpret it
so he’d get visibly angry sometimes
when we talked and I would say stuff
that I knew would piss him off
just to see him get all flustered
see his eyes narrow a bit
shoulders hunch or sometimes
he would draw back
look down his nose at me
like he was examining
a dangerous species of insect
before he found some way
to crush it.
Even though he was weird that way
I always kind of liked him
maybe because he was an old farm kid
from far out in the central part of Nebraska
and I was an old farm kid from even farther out
in western Nebraska, only I maybe
fell in with a crazy crowd and smoked dope
and dropped acid in the navy
while he walked the straight and narrow
in the army and held on
to all those home-grown values.

He was a master with the copy machine—
I, the kind of person who makes them jam up
just walking by—
so one day I asked him how he knew so much
about copy machines.
He kind of swelled up with pride
said he’d been some kind of printing technician
in the army.

But there at our job he had a hard time
adjusting to changes
and our job was always changing
thanks to cuts in funding
and a general overall attitude
of contempt for the poor
our right-wing governor had
in the red-necked state
we lived in and worked for.
I was the guy’s boss so I knew
the tough time he had adjusting
and I knew how he bucked the system
his own way by trying
to continue using all the old ways
because they were better.

One time before he got sick he told me
he was having trouble with his son
he was worried about him
who kept getting towed at his apartment
because he wouldn’t buy a sticker
or something goofy like that.
I felt queasy he would confide in me
about anything, especially his son
though it seemed like he was just making
dumb mistakes, nothing major like meth
or addictions to something else
like my kid that I’d never
shared with him, and never would have.
I thought his kid was being stupid
but didn’t say that and listened
father-to-father as though
he was telling me something truly shocking.
I told him tell your kid
buy the freaking permit
and he had, but there was some
excuse. That’s the closest we ever got
but I never could figure out
why he talked to me about it.
It was a closeness that I’d never felt
we either one had earned.

He was diabetic and overweight
but always ate carefully, low-carb,
took a walk in the lunch hour
to keep his weight down.
Explained to me how diabetics
can’t burn up carbs like normal.
He always said “Be careful”
as a way to send you off
at the end of the day
when most people would say
“See you tomorrow” or “Be good.”
One angry client took it wrong
one time and I had to defuse him—
“What did he mean by that—‘Be careful’—
was that a threat?”
The last time I saw him, he was heading out
for the weekend, had on a pair
of shooter’s goggles,
made me think somehow
of James Dickey, though I never told him
because I would have had to explain.
I talked to his wife on the phone
because she called in to say
he’d be out for tests
or for another two weeks
or that he’d be back
or they’ve got to do more surgery
or that he wasn’t coming back.
He’s the last guy I thought
would die out of all the people
I’ve worked with
who smoked cigarettes,
drank sodas, ate junk
and never exercised.
On a routine visit
it was the dentist
who spotted
the lesion.

I think of him every time I peel an orange
whether I can get that one continuous strip going or not.
No matter if I’m at home or work,
peeling an orange for breakfast
or like tonight, alone in the kitchen
waiting out stuff, I think of him
and wonder which one of us
was right, or if there is such a thing
as right or wrong
whether he deserved to die
if God was watching over him
and me, and if he let me live on
to think of him somehow to keep
him alive that way,
why it passed we came to work together,
and if I had been first to die
is there anything he would have remembered me by.

from Rattle #47, Spring 2015


Greg Kosmicki: “I’ve thought for years about my co-worker—always reminded of him the way the poem says, and tried writing it a couple times. When I peeled this orange, maybe the thousandth since then, I realized the orange spiral was the trigger, so I started with that, then wrote out everything about us that had been bumping around in my head ten or so years.”

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August 12, 2014

Fred D. White


in memoriam, William Barker, Ph.D.

“Take a deep breath,” said Bill,
my physicist colleague, soon to retire.
I did so, theatrically, and he proclaimed,
just as theatrically, that three
of the atoms among the molecules of air
I’d just inhaled were the very atoms
Jesus breathed.
As a scientist, he could assure me
that what had been a part of Him
was literally, this moment,
a part of me—and so on, with every breath I took.
Ever since his death, I’ve been trying
to estimate (inhaling deeply),
how many atoms of Bill’s were sporting now,
with Jesus’s, inside my lungs.

from Rattle #20, Winter 2003

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August 24, 2014

Sonia Greenfield


In Memoriam James Foley

They’ve said that the jihadist
narrator spoke in an East London accent, that
the journalist in orange kneeled on the ground, that
he may have denounced America before
the knife met throat and cut back. I’ll never know
beyond what they’ve said on the radio
as I tune it to Morning Becomes Eclectic
meaning just music. In San Marino
after four years, the Titan Arum
is about to bloom, but you can call it
a corpse flower. I thought that it would look different,
the flower I mean. More like the enormous meaty
flowers of Borneo and less like a new monk stripping
away his purple robes, though they both
pollinate by flies drawn to the scent. Look
them up online. I won’t watch how the event
unfolds, yet I hold in my imagination
his mother’s hand hovering above the mouse,
cursor blinking over that play arrow, to say nothing
of its barbed end.

Poets Respond
August 24, 2014

[download audio]


Sonia Greenfield: “I’d like to think poetry can remind us that politics has a rich emotional life. Furthermore, whenever I think about the brutality of man, I inevitably think about the mothers.” (website)

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January 8, 2013

Jesse S. Fourmy


     In memoriam, Ken T. Murphy,
     d.11/24/2009, Honolulu

My friend, in the wake of the Leonids,
your death, your long journey from Duluth.
Are you still surprised to have found
your parents’ marriage certificate
hidden in the family bible—
precious as a maple’s golden leaf?
Bastard through high school—who knew?
I admit I still laugh about it now,
this very minute while I write.
The way you told it over dinners
reminds me of how human we are
despite convention, despite reservations.
I can’t help my sadness thinking about you
and the last time we spoke at your home.
You offered us tea but we declined.
Now, I wished we’d stayed longer.
But in our youth we felt the urge to go
because our kids were tearing through your flowers.
I was embarrassed and thought it bothered you.
Now I realize you simply wanted company.
You’d called looking for a muscle man
to lift your television set and we came over.
You told us about your lifespan, how nobody
in your condition was expected to live as long.
I felt there was more in the way you said it,
in the way your eyes sparkled when we left.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012
Tribute to Law Enforcement Poets

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June 15, 2010

Review by Lex RuncimanThe Hunt in the Forest by John Burnside

by John Burnside

Cape Poetry
Jonathan Cape, Random House
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road
London SW1V 2SA
ISBN 9780224089272
2009, 52 pp., £10.00

John Burnside’s The Hunt in the Forest concerns itself thematically with death or how close we can come to it.  That is the gist of “Learning to Swim,” the book’s opening poem about its speaker’s first immersion using the sink-or-swim instructional method. The speaker lives, though it was a close call. What sticks in one’s memory is “the water’s answer / the shadow it left in my blood when it let me go.”

Death and its proximity is also the theme for one of the book’s strongest poems, “In Memoriam,” a poem notable  in that contrary to one currently commonplace expectation, it never embraces a directly confessional stance.  Burnside is a poet of what Robert Frost called “the sound of sense.” He proceeds by ear, by image, as much as by thought. You can hear his ear at work in the phrase “the water’s answer.” And you can hear it in any of the lengthy sentences that make up “In Memoriam.”

In that poem in four parts, long sentences become the principle method for at once staving off and also somehow engaging what has clearly become, later or sooner, the inevitable. In one such sentence, the poem’s subject, someone “on the surgery ward,” is imagined dreaming: “… you were leaning in to the flicker and twitch / of a dream you could never enter, hoping to catch / the ghost of something feral …” In total, this single sentence runs two thirds of a page. But even in the small bit quoted, you can hear how “flicker” plays off against “never,” how “twitch” gets echoed by “catch,” and how “feral” makes a recombination of “flicker,” “never,” and “enter.” In this poem, sound and imagined memory become an evocative memorial for someone who, we learn three quarters of the way through, may have lived “a marriage falling open like a book / … / from thought to song, from song to widowhood / a voice that is quiet and clear, till you open the door.”

What such poems do early in this book is open out a field of discussion. After the death of a loved one, where does that person go? We know what happens to the body. But for those who survive, the dead person goes into the past, which arrives suddenly as something altered and new: “On some days it feels like a gift, / flaws in the line of a sumac becoming // linnets, or finches…” The referent for “it” here is likely light itself (the quotation comes from a poem titled “An Essay Concerning Light”). But light is surely and easily equated with life, with the fact of continued life despite the death of someone close. In that new condition, that afterwards, the world can seem one busy and evocative “Echo Room” (as another poem has it).

The more one reads in this book, the more its ordering appears at once conscious and ambitious. In this, it can remind one of Robert Penn Warren’s numbered sequences. Burnside doesn’t go so far as to make that direct assertion numbering would affirm. But the book is not divided into sections. Surprisingly, the early death-related poems serve to open out the book’s scope and regard. Thus, in “Documentary,” we see and hear invoked the possibility of “… our parallel selves / brighter and more successful than we seem, // but touched, still, with a possibility: / the parallel, we’re led to guess, // of us.” This is at once a response to grief and an allusion to the conjectures of contemporary physics. Ultimately, what this book seeks to accomplish is a transmutation from the calm violence and absence of death to expressions of beauty. This is an old pairing, to be sure, but Burnside doesn’t treat it as old or worn. In his hands, it reads new. Saying “Poppy Day” out loud may be sufficient evidence.

John Burnside rightfully commands a considerable reputation in his native country (Scotland, and more broadly, the UK) where his poetry – now eleven books – and his prose (both fiction and memoir) are widely recognized.  Somehow his poetry has not found an American publisher. Alas, we’re the poorer for it.


Lex Runciman’s most recent book is Starting from Anywhere (Salmon Poetry, 2009). He teaches at Linfield College in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

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