September-December 2007

Featured Poets

Lucille Lang Day
Kathleen Jamie
Vern Rutsala





Lucille Lang Day



The skeleton leans forward in darkness;
heart, brain, stomach and torso models
all assembled for a change. In one corner
my office is a cube of light, two walls
with windows facing the exhibits:
when the museum opens, I’m on display.

Years ago I dreamed of a science museum.
Large, brightly lit nitrogenous bases
and sugar molecules clicked together,
forming DNA. In the physics room
an inclined plane with marble, copper
and wooden balls let you test Newton’s
laws of motion, but people kept leaving.
I wanted to stay forever, watching
tinselly stars and planets travel
on tracks and wires overhead.

One by one, the rooms went dark.
Exhibits stopped, as large metal doors
slid shut. I thought I was dying,
that lights were going out in my brain.
In a locked corridor, the floor became
a slide expelling me from the building
like a child from the womb. I thought
of the fracture patterns on eggshells,
the green and black of decay.

Now each morning I drink coffee
with milk and sugar, then get dressed,
always surprised that neither journey—
light to dark nor dark to light—is over.
I turn the key and enter my office,
peer out at cells, bones, nerves,
and churning blood, all on display.


Let's do it.
Gary Gilmore

Seven a.m. I watch my victim.
In his black shirt and black hood,
he is still. He might already
be dead, but for the slow
rise and fall of his chest,
where a white target hangs,
round as the moon.

I stand behind a black cloth.
A small rectangular window
frames my man, who sits
on a leather-backed chair,
proud as any king on his throne.
I am his subject—anonymous.
He makes history.

In a killer's mind, I think
the sky must be black and low.
No woman or fire can warm you.
“One, two. . .,” the count begins.
Now the man needs nothing—
not even love. Three rapid
reports, and his heart explodes.


A fat court reporter kneels before the judge
robed in black. An American flag
hangs on the wall behind them.
The defendant wears a velvet blazer,
white slacks and no socks.
A woman on the jury wonders
if he can't afford them.

In the chambers the other jurors
say it's just the style. Back
to business. They consider
the evidence. Did this man hold
in his palm a rock of cocaine, worth
about five dollars? Did he throw it
on the ground when the cops came?

The District Attorney has asked
for truth on behalf of the People.
The Public Defender says Mr. Cole
was waylaid by a dealer.
He was also ambushed by the police.
Mr. Cole is poor. This is his first felony.
But the judge has warned that sympathy

must not taint the verdict.
The jurors debate, as the clock
ticks away. They eat lunch at a different
restaurant every day, watched
by the bailiff. The People spend
enough to send Mr. Cole to Harvard.
Instead, he's sent up the river.


After passing security, I settle into a chair
at Gate C28 and cross my feet
on the blue-and-gray industrial carpet.

Eyes concealed by dark glasses,
a gaunt man in loafers skims Newsweek.
A wet or hungry baby starts to scream.

A bald man holds a folded paper,
a black man reads a thick gold book,
a boy in Nikes can’t sit still.

Studying her boarding pass, a woman
in bright red spike heels looks
impatient, as people wheel luggage

this way and that, each one lucky,
each one blessed. Their shoes will not
molder in piles, coated with ash and dirt.

One of the crowd, I tap my sandaled foot,
taking notes in my little green book.
So many people, rattled or calm,

happy or not, young or old,
going where they want to go. May
it always be. I whisper low, Godspeed.



Kathleen Jamie

Waterlight: Selected Poems

WATERLIGHT: Selected Poems


The Blue Boat

How late the daylight edges
toward the northern night
as though journeying
in a blue boat, gilded in mussel shell

with, slung from its mast, a lantern
like our old idea of the soul


White-sided Dolphins

When there was no doubt,
no mistaking for water-glint
their dorsal fins'
urgent cut and dive

we grabbed cameras, threw ourselves
flat on the fore-deck  Then,
just for a short time
we traveled as one

loose formation: the muscular
wingers, mothers-with-young,
old scarred outriders
all breached alongside,

took it in turn
to swoon up through our pressure-wave,
careen and appraise us
with a speculative eye

till they'd seen enough,
when true to their own
inner oceanic maps, the animals
veered off from us, north by northwest.


The Whale-watcher

And when at last the road
gives out, I'll walk
harsh grass, sea-maws,
lichen-crusted bedrock

and hole up the cold
summer in some battered
caravan, quartering
the brittle waves

till my eyes evaporate
and I'm willing again
to deal myself in:
having watched them

breach, breathe, and dive
far out in the glare,
like stitches sewn in a rent
almost beyond repair.


The Dipper

It was winter, near freezing,
I'd walked through a forest of firs
when I saw issue out of the waterfall
a solitary bird.

It lit on a damp rock
and, as water swept stupidly on,
wrung from its own throat
supple, undammable song.

It isn't mine to give.
I can't coax this bird to my hand
that knows the depth of the river
yet sings of it on land.


Before the Wind

If I'm to happen upon the hill
where cherries grow wild
it better be soon, or the yellow-
eyed birds will come squabbling,

claiming the fruit for their own.
Wild means stones barely
clothed in flesh, but that's rich
coming from me.  A mouth

contains a cherry, a cherry
a stone, a stone
the flowering branch
I must find before the wind

scatters all trace of its blossom,
and the fruit comes, and yellow-eyed birds.


Vern Rutsala

How We Spent Our Time (Akron Series in Poetry)

How We Spent Our Time


Taking the Old Road

Yesterday we fell for it again,
letting ourselves be herded
along I-5—all traffic
a single-minded seventy, roadsides
like blinders, farmland and towns
turned into vague rumors.
Today we wanted no more of being told
there was only one way to go
but had to ask three times
for the old road—no one seemed to remember.
Their directions took us into hills,
along roads with aliases and alibis
and no true identities.
We had their meaning—anything off
the freeway is an illusion,
those roads and towns edited out of memory,
but finally an old man
killing time on a corner understood
and sent us free of cloverleafs and ramps.
The traffic thinned and we drove
into our own past, through towns
with real names—Woodburn, Aurora, Canby.
Suddenly a local version of the world appeared—
people on sidewalks, schools, houses,
and our eyes filled as we slowed
to a human speed passing landmarks
like the Chuckhole Tavern,
Antique Buffaloes, and Flo's Beauty Salon
and Ferry. We knew again how interstates
were meant to drain wit away
with their simple numbers.
And for us the map came alive
and Main Streets bounced into view
like those remembered from childhood,
dreaming by in evening light
with those mysterious lives of strangers
hovering under streetlamps,
people we would never know.
Freeways pound travel to amnesia
the way airports do—duplicates of each other,
history carefully washed away,
a method for losing the past—those towns,
those farms we came from
as if they were guilty secrets.
But for miles we were back there
travelling the old two-lanes in ancient heavy cars,
our parents talking quietly in the front seat,
as we counted livestock
in misty pastures and wondered
about the people wool-gathering behind those
single lighted windows in all the lonely farmhouses.


Owning Things

This new tree can't be our emblem—it looks
too sick, needles almost yellow.
And no matter how much
we fuss around with water and hoes
we know it's bound to die.
Yes, it's ours but we want no part of it,
want to disown it, wish it would just
pull loose and crawl away some night for good.
We know about possession,
its nine points prick our skin with these dry needles.
Yet the tree gets sicker and sicker
in the lawn comer where the soil is jinxed.
True, we don't try that hard
but other trees did well—a pear, a lilac
that's nearly up to the eaves, three maples
that just dropped in on some windy whim.
Maybe that's the key—we don't own
those trees, they just settled like squatters.
Maybe that suits the way we are—
preferring to be chosen
rather than choosing for ourselves.
Or maybe the other trees own us
and slyly turn the ones we buy into outcasts
that die quickly of shame.
Owning things is strange.
Owning owns us, making us worry
about sick trees saying something secret
and dark about our lives to the neighbors.
We think they're sure its needles
turn brittle and dry because of our attention—
our thumbs the opposite of green,
the thumbs of killers finally.
And the tree says: I belong to you, this is what owning means—
a kind of slow murder.
We know what will happen: Some night after a few drinks
we'll dig it up and sneak it away to some
secret burial out of sight.
But ownership, being what it is, we'll remember
this tree and on bad nights
the dryness of its dying will flicker
across our skin and we'll own up,
admitting it was our emblem after all
and that it owns us still.


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Contributor's Notes

Lucille Lang Day's poetry collections and chapbooks are Infinities, Wild One, Fire in the Garden, Self-Portrait with Hand Microscope, Lucille Lang Day: Greatest Hits, The Book of Answers, and God of the Jellyfish.  The above poems are taken from a new collection, The Curvature of Blue, which will be published by Cervena Barva Press in 2008. She is the publisher of Scarlet Tanager Books. She received her M.A. and M.F.A. in creative writing at San Francisco State University, and her M.A. in zoology and Ph.D. in science and mathematics at University of California, Berkeley.

Kathleen Jamie was born in the west of Scotland in 1962.  Her poetry has appeared in seven collections, and in the London Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere.  She teaches at St. Andrew's University and lives in Fife, Scotland.

The above poems were selected from her new collection of poems, Waterlight published by Graywolf press; April 2007

Vern Rutsala is a native of the Pacific Northwest.  He received his B.A. from Reed College and his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa.  He is the author of numerous poetry books.  His previous book, The Moment's Equation, was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry.  Among his awards are a Guggenheim fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Richard Snyder Prize, and the Kenneth O. Hanson Award.  Rutsala taught at Lewis & Clark College from 1961-2004.  The above selections are taken from his recent book How We Spent Our Time, the 2004 Akron Poetry Prize Winner.