April 26, 2018

BOB CHURCHILL: A POEM



Bob Churchill
AN OLD SURVIVOR CALCULATES HIS RECOMPENSE

I’ve let the backyard go to jungle
again.  Not like “The Bush” in Vietnam—
after fifty years still the place
of nightmares, with lime-green pit vipers
nestled in lianas, blood-sheened
leaves large as platters,
teenage girls in black pajamas
eager to poke me full
of bullet holes with battered AK-47s.

Here, chest-high stands
of nettles meant to sear
red itchfire blisters into skin,
4-foot dandelions gone to lace,
pungent wild onions fatter
than my thumb.  And the Creeping Jenny,
a toddler testing newfound legs,
has somehow galloped everywhere.

Here, a Ruby-throated hummingbird
siphons nectar at a feeder. Cicadas
rasp metallic song from ash-leaf-
sunshine-flutter. The almost-painful
sweetness of wild Honeysuckle
perfumes the courtyard.  And festooning
twenty feet of board fence,
the draped ramble of an unpruned
Concord grapevine.  Each season

its hard green beads stuff
squirrels’ guts months before
that drowsing afternoon,
forever in the future, when full-
to-bursting bunches push themselves
into my hand, beg to be popped
one-by-one onto a thirsty tongue
or pressed through thick, rich, purple ooze
into warm Summer wine.

My former co-editor of poetry at Douglas Glover’s Numéro Cinq, Susan Aizenberg, introduced me to Bob Churchill, a Vietnam combat veteran (1969-70) who recently retired after thirty-eight years as Assistant Professor of English at Creighton University.  He has written poems all his life, but has published very few over the years—mostly in small literary magazines.  In May, 2017, he graduated from Creighton’s MFA program.

Bob writes: What draws me to poetry? I love the challenge of trying to communicate an experience in language that's packed so full of possibilities it incandesces. Some favorite poets:  Dylan Thomas, Yeats, Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Ted Kooser, Susan Aizenberg, Betsy Scholl (and many others). The most challenging thing about writing poetry for me is disciplining myself to sit down and write regularly.


April 24, 2018

SUSIE OSLER READS FLEUR ADCOCK

For Poetry Month, ceramic artist and steward of the land Susie Osler offers this poem by New Zealand poet Fleur Adcock.
Fleur Adcock by Caroline Forbes/British Council
WEATHERING
Fleur Adcock

Literally thin-skinned, I suppose, my face
catches the wind off the snow-line and flushes
with a flush that will never wholly settle. Well:
that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young for ever, to pass.

I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty
nor anything but pretty enough to satisfy
men who need to be seen with passable women.
But now that I am in love with a place
which doesn’t care how I look, or if I’m happy,

happy is how I look, and that’s all.
My hair will grow grey in any case,
my nails chip and flake, my waist thicken,
and the years work all their usual changes.
If my face is to be weather-beaten as well

that’s little enough lost, a fair bargain
for a year among the lakes and fells, when simply
to look out of my window at the high pass
makes me indifferent to mirrors and to what
my soul may wear over its new complexion.


SUSIE OSLER writes:
From what I understand, this poem by Fleur Adcock is autobiographical. It’s an unapologetic affirmation made by a woman (Adcock presumably) who has seemingly wrestled with feeling (in)adequately pleasing in the eyes of men for most of her years and who now finds herself finally at ease, fully grounded, and happy in the company of the land. To this I say….‘Hallelujah!’  In this mildly irreverent 'fuck you!’ to the ‘civilized’ world, an outworn cloak of judgement, vanity, and romantic relationship has been ditched in exchange for the (unconditional) acceptance and intimate relationship that she develops with the wild lands she inhabits, and indeed also with herself.

Can’t we all use a dose of this?

At the age of 51, I find myself grappling with the challenges of being an aging woman in contemporary society.  In times where beauty and value oft seem measured by a woman’s ability to stave off the thickening waist, the chipped nails and the wrinkling evidence of a life….well….lived, I may have failed to measure up.  But I also know in my bones the sense of wholeness, depth and ease that arises in solitude and in the company of wildness.  It is potent and powerful. Wandering in the bush where I've been fortunate to live for 16 years - especially in winter - the line between self and the land softens.  The shackles of time and judgement (be they self or socially imposed) slough off….wither away.

And happy is how I feel!

As I become aware of more and more people who are opting for collegen, botox, plastic surgery and other age-defying treatments, I have begun to wonder what we are are setting future generations of women up for (and now men as well).  Has it become unacceptable to age? To look like who we are and the age we areFor our bodies to ‘weather’ over time like a beautiful tree, or mountain, or a flower passing its 'prime'? Do our elder years have nothing to offer us but losses? What happened to wisdom? Of becoming comfortable in our aging skins?

I can’t yet say I’ve become 'indifferent to mirrors’, but I am learning, ever so slowly, to begin embracing my changing, weathered complexion! 
Susie's Creation Story