Events overheard of & etc.
X.Z. Shao / inspired by a turtle bone carving
of the ancient Chinese character for "woman"
A Parallel Uni-Verse
Poetry from Maine, and worlds elsewhere
"It seems to be"
By X.Z. Shao
It seems to be
a quarry of broken concrete
crooked steel beards
pointing out in disorder
you will live in time
in it, a mansion
echoing your soft whisper
and your gait
in every mirror.
X.Z. Shao is a poet, philosopher and
teacher of English language and
creative writing at Xiamen University in
Xiamen, China. His blog is A Poetic
Voice from China.
poems by and/or reviews of:
John Holt Willey
Gordon Theisen Nighthawks
Hearts in Suspension
University of Maine Press
Anne Britting Oleson
Taisen Deshimaru Roshi
Dean Rader, America
Simone Paradis Hanson
When I was five, believed
He lived up there, and saw
By baby angels
Waiting to be born.
I told my mother:
"Before I was born I was an angel."
Mother asked, "Well, where are your wings?"
I said: "Stored in the attic."
Ted Bookey lives in Readfield, Maine, and is an organizer of the poetry
series at the Hallowell Gallery in Hallowell. His books include Lostalgia
and Language as a Second Language.
By Ted Bookey
Last year we fought where the Sang-kan flows,
this year it was Onion River Road.
We’ve washed our swords in the Eastern Sea,
grazed our horses on T’ien Shan’s snowy side.
A thousand miles are not enough for this war,
our armies grow old in their armor.
Husbandmen of slaughter, the Huns
have sown the yellow desert with our bones.
Long ago the Ch’in built the Great Wall,
now it’s the Han who light the signal-beacon.
All night long the flames flicker,
year in year out, the war goes on.
Bright swords flash, brave men fall and die,
riderless horses whinny at the sky.
Kites and crows pluck out the guts,
hang them high on the withered trees.
Soldiers smear their blood on the dry grass
while generals map the next campaign.
Wise men know winning a war
is no better than losing one.
Li Bai (701-762) was one of China's most revered poets of all time.
Half human, and half machine.
Oils running dry in this smoky scene.
Jackson Wilde is a short order cook, occasional
thrash drummer and near-dormant poet living in
By Jackson Wilde
Fighting South of the Wall.
Listen to the Chinese.
Eheu! How dangerous, how high! It would be easier to climb to Heaven
than to walk the Szechwan Road.
Since Ts’an Ts’ung and Yü Fu ruled the land, forty-eight thousand years had
gone by; and still no human foot had passed from Shu to the frontiers of
Ch’in. To the west across T’ai-po Shan there was a bird-track, by which one
could cross to the ridge of O-mi. But the earth of the hill crumbled and
So afterwards they made sky ladders and hanging bridges. Above, high
beacons of rock that turn back the chariot of the sun. Below, whirling
eddies that meet the waves of the current and drive them away. Even the
wings of the yellow cranes cannot carry them across, and the monkeys
grow weary of such climbing.
How the road curls in the pass of Green Mud!
With nine turns in a hundred steps it twists up the hills.
Clutching at Orion, passing the Well Star, I look up and gasp. Then beating
my breast sit and groan aloud.
I fear I shall never return from my westward wandering; the way is steep
and the rocks cannot be climbed.
Sometimes the voice of a bird calls among the ancient trees -- a male
calling to its wife, up and down through the woods. Sometimes a
nightingale sings to the moon, weary of empty hills.
It would be easier to climb to Heaven than to walk the Szechwan Road; and
those who hear the tale of it turn pale with fear.
Between the hill-tops and the sky there is not a cubit’s space. Withered
pine-trees hang leaning over precipitous walls.
Flying waterfalls and rolling torrents mingle their din. Beating the cliffs and
circling the rocks, they thunder in a thousand valleys.
Alas! O traveller, why did you come to so fearful a place? The Sword Gate
is high and jagged. If one man stood in the Pass, he could hold it against
The guardian of the Pass leaps like a wolf on all who are not his kinsmen.
In the daytime one hides from ravening tigers and in the night from long
serpents, that sharpen their fangs and lick blood, slaying men like grass.
They say the Embroidered City is a pleasant place, but I had rather be safe
For it would be easier to climb to Heaven than to walk the Szechwan Road.
I turn my body and gaze longingly toward the West.
Li Bai (701-762) was one of China's most revered poets of all time.
Hard Roads in Shu.
Listen to the Chinese.
I was asked to build a wall to stem
erosion's tide, so set myself the task
of wheel-barrowing stones, balancing one
against the other on a mile wide bay.
In years gone by I had helped my father
build a wall with stones "for making
good boundaries" noticing how he fondled
them as if they were in some way sacred,
then settling "for the good fit."
"Stones" he said with grim good humor,
"are good for walls and tombstones
and when blessed keep demons away."
He had faith in ancient ways though
masking his beliefs in mysteries beyond
the surface of convuluted stones, their
bluish meandering curves a perpetual
fascination. Memories jarred me
as I piled dead branches to rebuild
yesterday's fire, taking pleasure in
plumes of flame from balsam fir bursting
into pinwheels of firecrackers shooting
heaven-ward. Unexpectedly my father's
image appeared, high-cheekboned with
weathered wrinkles, his dementia no longer
evident, then vanished back into the
wall of flame while in a state of anxiety
I boiled broth in a small cauldron over
a makeshift grill. Continuing on with my
task I turned a boulder on its side in
preparation for dragging and startled
a large crab wallowing in the shadows
which scuttled rapidly away. I removed
periwinkles and snails held fast
by the rockweed. From an island nearby
came the wailing of a seal pup reminding
me of a child crying for it's mother.
Across the bay bagpipes skirled, with
a piper practicing dirge-like tunes drifting
in the tide. Between tasks of hauling
and stacking rocks I covered up the twisted
roots of rowan trees stunted by the
battering winter winds, then plunged
my arms into masses of rotted humus and
salt-grass and broken strands of goldenrod
as autumn gusts mashed up dulse and
the strawy rinds of sawgrass against
the dulled edges of the eroded ledge.
Grappling with crinkled seaweed I walked
back and forth, self-absorbed while
pausing to pour tea from a dented thermos
as squalls of thunder retightened me
to the job of levering up rocks gathered
from the small creek nearby. Rain gusted
above the darkening waves as I placed
a large piece of bright shale to be a
facing stone. A glistening residue of rain
mirrored an image of my father looking
back at me, before I realized it was an
image of myself. Once more I ratcheted
up the cable with the come-a-long and
cradled more boulders with a chain while
anchoring the end to a well-rooted tree,
dragging each one in turn from the mudflat
to the ledge. One wedged against the
jagged bank, pinioning me to habits
of self-recrimination, my neck whiplashed
against jagged sea-wrack as I heaved
the last stone onto the restraining wall.
Stretched taut, my ligamented memory
bound me to another vision of my father,
eyes glazed, breath laboring as his life
ebbed away while he cradled me with a
whisper, willing me to make the vow that
allowed him to let go. Despite his delirious
state I held his hand while relating
our pilgrimage together in years gone by
when we had traveled to our native land,
crossing the devil's gap to carrokeel
and standing on ceshcorran while gazing at
legendary boulders, ancient craggy men
fixed by story into vague human forms.
We sat together on finn's rock gazing
into the distance at the great stone mound
of Maeve's grave on knocknarea. His breathing
slowed as I ceased my recollections and
he murmured about a dream of the virgin
mary floating past the bottom of the bed.
As if an inner decision had been reached,
words were mouthed that I could barely
fathom: “o mother of night” and with a
final groan he ceased breathing. Returning
to the present I was wedged into
a wall of memory, and overcome by a wild
nostalgia, wheeled about to gaze numbly
through fog at the riffling sea, my
attention focused on thin places between
passing clouds hovering above a groaning
tide. Rivulets seeped down, damming
water behind the wall and with a rapid
motion I took out a fist sized stone
at the bottom to make a passage for the
water to gush forth over the last embers
of the fire. The tide lapped up against the
bank while water slowly engulfed the ledge
as I retreated to higher ground, my spirits
lifting as the sea rolled back and forth
against layered stone-work. The gauze-
like clouds parted momentarily as a
crescent moon cupped my father's half-
articulated voice still resonating in my
ear. A low growl of waves continued to surge
and break against the newly layered stone
while a bell-buoy sounded through a mist
that transcended this world of sea and land and sky.
Hugh Curran of Surry, Maine, is an instructor in the Peace Studies
program at the University of Maine and a native son of Ireland.
By Hugh Curran
Looking At Him
By Carolyn Gelland
She saw her own
image in his eyes
looking at him
not simply herself
but herself in him
by her star.
Carolyn Gelland lives in Wilton, Maine. Her
most recent book is Dream-Shuttle.
A silent road leading
to a silent Mill.
The roads were alive
helping me in my
slumber. The loud roars
shouting through the
streets. Loud trucks up
til dusk til dawn.
A natural sound it felt
during the night. The
Mill has closed leaving
the truckers in Eternal
Michael Shaw is a high school student living in Bucksport,
Maine. This poem is set to appear in “STILL MILL: Poems,
Stories & Songs of Making Paper in Bucksport, Maine 1930 –
2014” soon to be released by North Country Press.
My Sleeping Street
By Michael Shaw II
Rice bubbling, spoon the froth
push the cover off part way
the televised news talking who causes what
bake several chicken legs
grateful, eventually, to sit down & eat
yet it escalates, the news now so bad
children gassed, starving, fire
disease, pain of another’s loss
story after story
I’m almost in tears
resolve not to repeat this supper
at the TV stuff, lest I learn to fence off
no, worse, be entertained by suffering
My poor debilitated friends, those dead
or in various kinds of disrepair
cancer, suicide, breakdown
no particular virtue I know of
to save your sorry ass
Who doesn’t feel grateful,
able to get up & work?
I’m re-staining the porch & a rattlesnake
curled lazily in the grass,
sleeping a meal off
dark muscular band, splotchy tan diamonds
paint skittishly along, bang about
hoping he’ll grow uneasy
but apparently that doesn’t translate
until I can’t tolerate the risk as stock analysts relate
challenged not so much by
the snake as my reluctance to kill it
charge at him with the truck, Vrroooom!
that does it
finish the porch
change the oil, drive into town,
get mail, stock up on groceries
you get caught behind a car
say, winding thru green hills
the dusty road, dry wash, barbed fence
the pinion & (cough) juniper
& the ordinary sun leveling
right in your eye—
can’t see a thing!
stick your head out the window
arm stretched for shade,
no ground you’re assured of
save what the body does --
the small sense of mission
I take, washing dishes
a kiss goodnight
“you can’t trust shit these days”
& never could!
the way “I” operates
only part of which is reliable
kidney failure, fatigue
nothing so regular
as to be guaranteed
trundle to bed, stiff neck,
having nodded off
watching a dumb movie
thankful for ordinary oil bills
sleep, hunger, stupid movies
ordinary hailstones, ordinary roof job
toilet overflows, thank you!
Bruce Holsapple grew up in Dexter, Maine, and now lives in
Magdalena, N.M. His recent book of poems is Wayward Shadow.
By Bruce Holsapple
Plumb the depth of time
Sitting by shore of moving water
Deep in the crowded forest of memories
Dredging up the glorious past
That’s now soggy and devoid of life
Like the drowned beaver pulled from trap
Dead animal sell the pelt
Waste the meat, pocket the money
Honor the totem animal?
They snicker and laugh
Grandfather worked the wood camps
Other grandfather worked the mill
Three generations cut wood
Families worked the mills
The mills were our families
Always beside the rivers
Small towns surrounded by forest
Part Mic-Mac we’re born to water and trees
Worked twenty four hours sometimes
Keep the machines running, they got a sound
Then a sound came from New York and Boston
From Men wearing gray suits
Heard them snicker and laugh
It echoed up the eastern seaboard
Way up the rivers in Maine
Close the mills, Smokestacks crashed
Like trees we used to fell
Defaulted scam loans fill gray suits with cash
Broken contracts shattered lives
Bulls of Wall Street in the china shop called Maine
Hundred million dollar paper machines, sold for scrap
Politicians say service economy, tourism, retraining
They snicker and laugh
Send us to hamburger school, can’t wait
In season serve a hamburger to tourists, smile, Minimum Wage
Funny thing happened on the way to poverty
They increased our taxes
Saw some suicides too
Gray suits, fancy dresses at parties
Dancing to the wisdom of greed, didn’t save one mill
What got saved?
We live in the woods, cut firewood
Can’t afford to burn oil, heat with wood
Neighbors and friends buy the extra that’s cut
Sometime I see hard times in their eyes
Read between unspoken lines give them an extra half cord
They helped me plenty when I needed
Forty five year old tractor breaks down, Henry fixes it
We give him raspberries when they come in season
Bill visited gave me five fresh caught trout
When I raised pigs we shared the meat
Snowstorm, not even light yet
Kenney’s plowing my lower driveway
Must be five people give us deer meat, moose, wild turkey
Years ago I cut meat up for them, they remember
Let a neighbor graze his sheep my field
My bush hog broke down can’t afford to fix it
He bush hogs my other field, I’m thankful every gift
My wife sews beautiful quilts, gives them away, family
We make our own Christmas cards, send them
Give them away, she worked the mill once
Don’t have much money
All this giving made us all rich in the soul
We’re sewn together like my wife’s quilts
Not a writer but I know what’s real
It ain’t torn down mills or greed
John "Bubba" Campbell of Dedham, Maine, submitted this poem for Patricia Ranzoni's
anthology of writings recalling the paper mill in Bucksport, which was recently closed for
reasons not clear to those who worked there.
By John Campbell
Distant thunder in the night
Then gentle rain.
The stonecutter, exhausted,
Sleeps through it.
Of such country folk he sang
Who dug potatoes,
Or peeled them,
And starved when they rotted,
On the day he died
His poems were posted
Here and there,
One by one,
Like little flags
In the diaspora.
Michael Howard is a philosophy professor at
the University of Maine in Orono.
For Seamus Heaney
By Michael Howard
Wherever you are, tuned to the BBC, your radio
bringing you “soulscape poetry,” I have an epiphany for you.
‘Twas a splendid gift, that Longfellow House holiday tour near
where our daughter works, home in Maine. To see on old maps
how close to the shore it was, stretching from what became
Congress Street, bustling, to the Back Cove back then
‘til Portland filled in. Oldest place on the peninsula today,
from seventeen hundred something.
I can’t show you everything that made me cry wherever
in the world you are, but this much I will try: The room
from which, through flooding panes, he gazed in tidal grief
out over their garden and penned, “Into each life some rain must fall...”
Mrs. Longfellow’s blue-marbled table bowl of far-fetched lemons,
in spite of it all, which I shall copy for us old and new years to come,
nestled in greens.
An inspirited curator’s scarlet scarf unfurling his stature
over Longfellow Square, a tier of snow-white gifts tied with red ribbons
glorifying his patinaed lap, celebrating that he, in his own right,
is the present. "Elegant” as my stately father would recite
from his Canadian mother and the 8 grades of schooling he earned
upriver in that one room on Pickle Ridge, Webster Plantation,
before leaving for the woods and, driving that ax, World War.
Because you, Dear Listener, wherever you are, could go out
to your own town center right now and touch someone
who could recite him still. What else can you show me? Or tell?
Patricia Ranzoni lives in Bucksport, Maine. Her collections include Bedding Vows, Hibernaculum,
Settling, From Here, and Only Human: Poems from the Atlantic Flyway, among others.
Because We Grew Up Memorizing Him, Did You?
By Patricia Ranzoni
Like you, dear Anton Pavlovich, I learned
to fear the secret tyranny of grocers.
They might sing beautifully in church on Sunday
but the rest of the week they are unkind and mean.
Not to mention quick with their fists.
Nor are they particular about whom they hit
so long as the target is smaller and weaker
and preferably caught off-guard.
Brutal father. Drunken brother. Matchless sister.
You were taught by a naturalism
native to your liberated era
to cultivate the habit of diagnosis
even when it came to love of family,
which you found to be a species of blindness,
and perhaps it was this that drove you out,
not, like that most famous Lear of the steppes,
to shatter your head on the gospel weather
and land on the indecent verge of death
unattended in a railway station.
No. You were driven out through taiga
to conduct a census among the damned.
Your efforts may have been fruitless -- in this,
in the schools, and in other projects --
but still there remain the examples
of your love and your stubborn decency,
more compelling now than ever
when even the mildest-mannered among us
can justify torture without stuttering.
Rick Doyle lives in Bucksport, Maine, and practices law in Hancock
Letter to Chekhov
By Rick Doyle
Too frail to heft my shield of solid gold
or cast a spear, I can still let my chariot
trundle over fallen friend and foe alike,
thrilling to the clash of arms, smears
of gore flashing past on my flying wheels.
I sat at the prow by a glowing brazier
to tell my tales to the boys tending sails,
oiling their blades against salt the god
huffs from the spuming sea. Wisdom
busies me now. Words alone, not deeds,
must now show the paths of fate. I smell
sour; and, yes, I see their eyes go dim
when yet again I begin about the old hunt
for the giant boar, how in my prime
heroes borne of gods grew twice the size
of these half breed warriors who bicker
and sulk in whispers while proud ships
sink in sand, seams crack under searing sun.
O, I know they smirk at an addled old fool
still visioning the crude old ways,
but they’d still be beached, growing old as me,
if my sweet voice had not cajoled
the pretty boy to go forth disguised
in his hero’s armor, to make us great again
in ancient rage and ecstatic slaughter.
William Hathaway in recent years moved from Surry, Maine,
to Gettysburg, Pa. His most recent collection in a long,
distinguished career is The Right No.
By William Hathaway
Crows on a Winter Morning
By Tom Sexton
Sitting near the top of wind-twisted tree
covered with frozen brown apples, a triad
of silent crows, motionless, watching me
while the morning tide ebbs with a sigh
past islands almost hidden by fog?
Are they the same crows I saw yesterday?
Do they wonder what rimes with fog?
Those islands could be ships moving away.
One tilts its head, cuts the air with its beak,
looks down, caws. Does it have something
profound to say in crow, something just for me?
Perhaps how a melancholic can learn to sing.
Probably not. Crows are only crows.
One more caw, then it shits a stream as white as snow.
Tom Sexton lives in Anchorage, Alaska, and was poet laureate of
that state from 1995 to 2003. He spends every other winter in his
house in Eastport, Maine. His most recent collection of poems is A
Ladder of Cranes.