Autumn Light

Autumn LightHere is September and the autumn equinox again. This morning’s fog gave way to a cloudless sky of brilliant sunlight. The poet, Mary Oliver, turned 83 this month, and I completed my 67th year, as impossible as that seems. The Yahara is still spilled over its banks, covering sidewalks and bike paths and shorelines. That river runs through the middle of our town, where torrential rains last month yielded weeks of flooding, followed by a bloom of toxic blue-green algae. This time of year, the sun is noticeably lower in the sky, letting a stream of light extend far across my living room floor. “There is,” wrote Mary Oliver, “only one question: how to love this world.” When autumn arrives, the honey locust trees lead the way with their small showers of golden leaves. Even in the finest light, many a wet question will never have a satisfactory answer.

Copyright 2018 by Brian Dean Powers

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Unfinished Business

Fork

The doctor extracted spaghetti-like strands
of prostate tissue to examine in the lab.

Two roads diverge from those samples, and I —
I don’t know which I will travel by.

So I wait for the call revealing the answer.
Could be “all clear.” Could be devastating.

Copyright 2018 by Brian Dean Powers. Note: I constantly make up little rhymes about the events of my life. They’re not intended to be significant poems. Usually they are small attempts at humor. This one’s different. And the business is now finished: the lab results were negative for “devastating.”

When X = Invisible

MagritteHow long
     did my
          inner analyst
               work unknown

and unbidden?
     How long
          to formulate
               one complete

and specific
     sentence?
          Walking along
               Williamson Street

toward home,
     I strolled 
          by the bistro
               that daily displays

the French flag.
     I was thinking
          of nothing
               but dinner

and a shower.
     A conditional statement — 
          if x, then y — 
               rose like a flag

into my awareness:
     You be invisible
          and we
               will tolerate you.
			
Imagine the demands 
     exacted by this unspoken
          one-line pact.
               What then

is lost
     if that sentence
          is imposed
               on your childhood?

Copyright 2016 by Brian Dean Powers
Published in the Summer 2018 issue of Bramble Literary Magazine

Tuck Everlasting: a Kids Book for Adults

The musical based on Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting had only a brief run on Broadway. Fortunately, we have the original cast recording of the delightful music from the show. My love for these songs inspired me to read the novel.

I admire the book because it treats young readers with respect, and because it’s so beautifully written. 

Although it’s intended as a story for kids, it considers the three biggest themes in literature: right and wrong, good and evil, life and death. 

The main characters are the Tuck family, Winnie Foster, and the mysterious man in the yellow suit. And there’s another character that isn’t human: the world of nature. 

Babbitt’s superbly written descriptions of nature are the highlight of the novel. Here’s the opening paragraph of the book.

     The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the 
     top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a ferris 
     wheel when it pauses on its turning. The weeks that come before
     are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop
     to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motion-
     less, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white 
     dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much 
     color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all 
     alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange
     and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do 
     things they are sure to be sorry for after.

Tuck Everlasting may be intended as a novel for young people, but it got under my older-adult skin. “The question of what it might be like to live forever,” the author told an interviewer, “is something that everyone thinks about. And I think you think about it more when you find out that you can’t do it.” 

Copyright 2018 by Brian Dean Powers

Loafing One Evening with Walt Whitman

Moon + Stars

The old poet sat and looked out with me
on my quiet summer porch.
From wood-and-canvas chairs, we scanned

the world that begins at sunset—
a marvelous occupation that needs no training,
no management team.

“I open my scuttle at night,”
Walt said in the darkness,
“and see the far-sprinkled systems.”

Constellations, we watched, a planet
and a third-quarter moon. The beacon
in the east became a jumbo jet overhead,

its landing lights and its engines
blaring power and authority.
And is there a hierarchy in the night sky?

Is bright Venus superior
to the pock-spotted moon, or
those stars in the Dippers?

Do the stars, in turn, 
exceed the darkness between?
“I do not call one greater

and one smaller,” Walt said,
“that which fills its period and place
is equal to any.”

Not the one outshining the rest,
but the priceless and irreplaceable beats	
of a luminous heart.

Copyright 2018 by Brian Dean Powers

Remembering Gay Poet, James L. White

James White

James White’s book, The Salt Ecstasies, first appeared in 1982. A new edition was published by Graywolf Press in 2010, augmented with a superb fourteen-page introduction by Mark Doty.

Born in Indiana in 1936, White and his generation matured in a world before Stonewall and marriage equality. Doty describes the speaker in White’s poems as “overweight, desperately lonely, grateful for whatever scrap of joy and affection sex will bring him.”

While the poet’s unhappiness seeps into every poem, there are passages of love and connection. 

In The First Time,  he describes a memorable encounter.

          We’re bunglers when it’s really good:
          bow legs, pimply backs, scrawny chest hair,
          full of mistakes and good intentions.

His poems are filled with the details of working class life, as in Making Love to Myself.

          After work when you’d come in and
          turn the TV off and sit on the edge of the bed,
          filling the room with gasoline smell from your overalls,
          trying not to wake me which you always did.

He’s often suggestive, without being explicit. In Summer News, White describes a tender encounter.

          He undresses me, telling me how tired I am,
          that friends have brought me their truths all day.
          He seems as beautiful as I wish my life was
          in the boiling light of our slight sweating.

In my favorite of his poems, Skin Movers, he finds deep joy in the mere presence of another.

          How still we are in sleep
          as though morning holds its breath.
          Our bodies rinsed with light
          like soaked birch.

Skin Movers ends with a moment of transcendence.

          Good love is like this.
          Even the smell of baked bread won’t make it better,
          this being out of myself for a while.

The corrected galleys for The Salt Ecstasies were on White’s bedside table when he died of heart disease in 1981. In Mark Doty’s estimation, “his consideration of desire and loneliness reaches beyond any categories of identity.”

The Lantern Room

Night Forest

Under a star-stuccoed sky, we wander
in the cold among the pine furnishings, we

tramp a parquet of bark and brown
needles. We say truth is found

in the clear shine of day, but
lit by the room’s lunar lamp 

we might know something more
for seeing less. Distinctions

dim, until who we are
is second to the blending. Light

flakes off the moon
and fuses with the freezing air.

Copyright 2007 by Brian Dean Powers
Published in the 2009 Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar