2023-04-24: salamanca bayou

when i was young, i knew i wanted to be a writer. and shortly after i started writing poems as a teenager, the desire shifted in terms of its specificity: i wanted to be a poet.

i wrote a lot of poems. none of them good. few of them survive - a function of growing up in the era of small hard disks and floppies and lacking the foresight to make physical copies of everything to carry forward. whoops. but if i could go back and tell my younger self three things, i'd tell him this:

  1. you are not reading enough
  2. you are not reading enough
  3. you are not reading enough

writing is the final thing. reading is the community and the corpus and the love and the pre-work. reading guides your taste, and if you're doing it critically, allows you to see what someone's trying, what's working, what isn't. i wasn't reading nearly enough. i was convinced that because i was writing something stylistically, i'd done the work. i'd done so little at all.

i wish, during those years, i'd read joe blades. i only learned of him a few years ago, shortly before he passed away in 2020. a while ago, i found a used copy of "open 24 hours", an anthology put out by his press that included a number of his own poems. joe's work has a plainess, a directness i really admire. no sonic acrobatics or acts of occlusion. it's refreshing and it invites you in. here is the first section of "salamanca bayou", which i wish i could have read decades ago.

salamanca bayou


if the groundhog in this creekbank
survived the winter mountain of driveway
plowed snow spring floods  loose
dogs and children's poking sticks...

i reach up my clumsy mittened hands
and try to pull  to press  my weight up
to the imaginary net's crossbar
ever easier to reach in winter's
snow and ice on the soccer fields
empty of players with well to the ceiling

ducks on mid-river ice  some rain
and ice will go—middle of the river
opens and floods  rain and treacherous
slush of march stabbing our blindsides
the river weakens and strengthens
flexes its ice and ripples across floodplain
until the outfield fence and soccer
goalposts disappear underwater.

sun-crazed winter growls  calling cool
aides to his side every night  but morning
rot wisps and waifs away  the minions—
roadside bergs lurking behind gas stations and
in commercial parking lots—fanged with
frozen drool  retreat  pushed onto river ice
by determined men with machines  onto a river
that won't break  that doesn't want to give in
that doesn't want to turn and run

creek waters gurgle around ice-encrusted rocks
and fallen  silt-enbedded tree limbs  night ice
softening as morning light reaches and concaves
it into ever-smaller and smaller puddles below