March 29, 2013

Scott Withiam


“Why this is the easiest part, Dear, going under.”
Envying the deer’s grace, the ease

with which they recede. Never go so far
as to inquire about the afterlife. “Oh, in one percent

of one percent of all the cases, Dear,
patients go under and just keep on going and …”

What really go on forever are struggles
on earth with speech. Or recovering from them. Yet briefly,

heaven is any deer’s here in the dispensed …
“Just let go … sparkling white … That’s it

flakes floating … That’s right, Dear …”
disappearing into snow, although not really.

Still there breathing.

from Rattle #37, Summer 2012


Scott Withiam: “How to say it? More and more I’m drawn to dialogues, to what people say more than what they do? In ‘Watching Deer in a Snowstorm …,’ it’s not what people do; it’s what their dialogues do. Two seemingly separate dialogues run together to make a third, somehow more convincing voice. I like how the intention behind language can be overridden by the unintentional (real or forced) nature of language.”

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March 4, 2012

Scott Withiam


My grandfather laid rail
toward cities he claimed
no interest in.
The day his buddy fell
off of their flat car home and died,
he traveled as far
as his bulkhead, down to his basement,
to the walled, dank quiet
and never, really, came out
of it, as we say. He lost
one son to lockjaw. He went soft,
opened a haberdashery,
felt and cloth.

A war came. The store failed.
His only son left, but came home.
As his grandson, I knew none
of the above, only what I loved,
as it should be, him,
and at the base of the stairs,
off to the side, in the dark,
his sweating crock,
in it, bread & butter pickles curing,
the round wooden cover
slid away sounding
like the cover on a well,
only deeper,
and if not slid back,

my grandfather floating up
bright-eyed into the kitchen,
holding up
his pickles in a glass measuring cup;
but not for measuring, only to view
the sugar-slowed brine,
swelled mustard seed,
all of those onions
tamed. All this plunked down
on the table between us.
Him saying, “You’ll never
taste anything like these again,”
more to himself.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011

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March 3, 2012

Scott Withiam


There were all kinds of arguments and atrocities occurring on the earth’s surface. There was one night’s graceful smothering of snow. Then arguments muffled below the surface. Below one man’s windowsill, buried along the buried lane came, “Why bother?” And a response: “Why not?”—tulip bulbs arguing, their argument: whether or not to bloom. Can you imagine this world? he thought. He got them out of it by himself going outside, digging them up and throwing them into one paper bag. He drove them to the expansion bridge and stopped in the middle, got them out, lined them up one by one on a steel girder, precariously leaned them against those big bolt heads and said it: “You’re bulbs, not bolt heads.” “What’s going on?” one asked. He snapped their picture, then said, “Bulbs without a flash.” “What is this?” another more officiously demanded. “Look down,” he said, “look at the islands.” “There are no islands.” “Yes there are,” he said, “You just can’t see them. They’re beautiful, but under snow.” A sharp blast of wind almost blew a few over. “Okay, okay,” a couple of bulbs said; “What do you want?” a few more cried. “Look down,” he said. “We did”; “There’s nothing”; “It’s bleak”; “It’s frozen,” were the answers. “Exactly,” he said. “What’s beneath all of this?” came the question. “Bingo,” he said, “not a flowing but a flowering river.” “We don’t get it.” “Neither do we,” he said, “but you don’t have to. Just come back home and do what you do.” “And you, what will you do?” one bulb asked. They were on their way. There were flashing lights, a siren. “You were driving erratically,” the officer said. “What’s in the bag?” “What’s it to you?” one bulb said, “please.” “Please,” said another, “we want to get back. We want to get going.” “Are you talking to me, Buddy?” the cop asked. “No,” the man said, “they are.”

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011

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September 16, 2011

Scott Withiam


Winter’s first snowflakes stuck together on their way down.
There were so many people upon which they fell who were not
sticking together. There was an unsnapped driving glove
fallen to the wet slop, looking like a tired tongue hanging out.
People awkwardly slipped away from each other, bodies taut.
Meanwhile, they looked up, higher up, anticipatory almost,
for the highest mountain hidden in a blizzard. It was almost
religious. No one knew that up there was an English-as-a-Second-Language
teacher. Her car had just spun out and ditched. She sat there.
She could not see the towns or people below, but considered how
the snow at higher altitude dumped in looser, world-torn tongues,
and thought how she had formerly thought how this horribly descended
upon the race. But here, she said, “Beautiful as it is, why do I try
to control my students’ writings? Why, when life is, as one student
had written of heavy snow, ‘like door after door shutting behind like,
real life getting more and more earily quite?’” The teacher got out
of her car, stood in it, what her student called “the petty snow,”
and following one snowflake, the complexity possible in each structure,
each phoneme, each situation or moment, said from then on what
she would correct would be her pettiness, so that there was prettiness.
Could that make a big difference? Remember the driving glove?
Attempting to drive over the mountain was that man wearing
his other, himself petty obsessed with a question: “What good is one?”
Not the deep question, What good is one flake or person? but What
good is one glove? Given the visibility, he mostly saw his numb hand
steering, till perched on his naked hand, superimposed like the sharp-eyed
hawk hunched on a dead branch and disappearing under snow, voila:
the teacher. He too stopped, ditched, but could not see how she saw
the snow as a huge blank piece of paper, out of which now opened
the only door for miles, his door, and how suddenly—suddenly,
the word she warned her students never to use—a red, rare hand
reached out—his hand—and helped her into the knew. Suddenly,
she jumped in, shook herself off, kissed and blew warm his cold hand.
And very unlike him, he made a claim: human feeling—maybe even love—
did not come back with pricks but arrived like talons, because his glove,
the one she had slipped off and now dangled between them, what was that
but some small beady-eyed screaming being carried off to be eaten
so that the bigger being could live? She wondered, she said, how long
it would be before someone below found it, the other.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention


Scott Withiam: “As with a lot of poems that I work on, ‘The Petty Snow’ had been in and out of cold storage since 2006. A few of the images were found, like the driver’s glove, but many more images, characters (bless the ESL teacher), situations, themes came and went as a result of experiment. I like how old writing reveals something new again or how my gained experience allows surer incisions or expansions, or that’s the belief, anyway. Generally, I’m an impatient person. Maybe I’m working on that, too.”

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