Friday, August 31, 2018

"What Sort of Man" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

What Sort of Man

zips into a soiled red jumpsuit and pushes a broom?
Clears the plazuela, walkways, and greens.
"Soiree" Ink & Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Keeps the fountain clean.  Sweeps cigarette butts,
gum wrappers, sticky discarded popsicle sticks,
plastic cup-lids. And dog shit.

The red jumpsuit says, Departmento de Parques.
He’s working for us, and though it should single him out
— a cardinal in a field of sparrows —
this man melds into the jumpsuit like camouflage.

He’s invisible to los estudiantes de la universidad
who spit their smokes and crush them.  Faceless 
to dog-walkers and aristocratic poodles, unleashed.
No obstacle to lovers who loiter nearby.
Just an empty pair of scuffed shoes to dark suits
hurrying past, tossing trash and missing the can.

I noticed him . . . because a devilish wind
stole pages from my notebook, and he ran
to help me gather my scribbles
scattered in the gutter across the street.
Gracias, I said and clasped in mis manos, clean and soft,
his gnarled knuckles and ragged nails.
De nada, he said.  De nada.  Kept his eyes downcast.

Noticed him at noon retrieve a brown sack
from a forked branch in a tree.  And his hat
hung on another branch, same tree.  His office,
I guessed.  And noticed his granddaughter in navy blue
school uniform come to visit and share his tortillas,
help him hoist his waste buckets into dumpsters.

Noticed she hugged him.  Noticed him waving, adios.
Heard him holler, Gracias, Maria.  Gracias por todo!

--Lowell Jaeger

Poet’s Notes:  Let us now praise the men and women who do the hard necessary jobs – the ditch diggers, the septic pumpers, the dishwashers, and the oil-patch roughnecks – people with thickly calloused hands like catchers’ mitts, people with sun-baked brows, people with aching backs who get up each day and go at it again. How do they keep moving? Why, so often, are they invisible to us, not just their value, but also their physical presence in a world that couldn’t keep going without them?  

I’ve written poems in praise of grocery clerks, sewer-doers, carpenters, taxi drivers, and small engine repairmen. I’ve never forgotten the years my dad carried a lunch bucket to work and trudged home exhausted in the evening.  Look around you; each sunrise unacknowledged angels dress in coveralls and work boots to go forth and hold the planet upright on its axis.

If you haven’t traveled to central Mexico, I urge you to go.  If you think the border towns and beach towns are the real Mexico, you’re wrong.  The quiet beauty of the old Spanish colonial villages lifts my spirits, and la gentil gente de México remind me how the simple things in life are the most precious.  When my wife and I wander the streets of Mexico City, or Morelia, or Oaxaca, we see neighbors and friends allotting time to sit and converse in la plaza pequeña.  We see mothers, fathers, and children walking hand in hand.  We question the pace of our own rat-race lives.  No lives are without struggle I know.  But Mexico teaches me I’ve invented a lot of my troubles all on my own.

I was proofing my book How Quickly What’s Passing Goes Past while my wife and I sipped coffees under the umbrella of a street side café in Mexico when the little drama in the poem “What Sort of Man” unfolded pretty much exactly as I’ve described it. A central theme in the poems of my book is how much of our lives go by without us stopping to witness and appreciate our circumstances and our days.  The old park attendant, he didn’t spend his days writing poems; he was a living poem. 

Editor’s Note:  What a finish to such a delightful and insightful month of poems by Montana Poet Laureate Lowell Jaeger!  Lowell will be the guest judge for the 5th annual Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest which will officially kick off tomorrow, September 1, and end on October 15.

The contest is the only fundraiser for Songs of Eretz and a fun way to show your support.  The future of Songs of Eretz depends almost entirely on how well the contest does.  So, if you are a poet, I hope to see an entry from you soon.  If you are not a poet, please consider sponsoring one you know or sending us an annual donation.

“What Sort of Man” was previously published in The Kindness of Strangers Anthology, and Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

"Holy Cow!" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

Holy Cow!
Lowell Jaeger

Holy cow! we’d say, waking to a foot of fresh snow
covering roads and walks.  Standing in our PJs barefoot
at the window, staring at drifts lolling from the eaves
"Expletive" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
like whipped cream.  Holy cow! we’d say, pointing
at icicles bending pine branches to breaking.

Holy balls! Dad said, nodding past his beer mug
at the trophy muskie mounted behind the bar,
the open jaw spiked with rows of glinting sabers.
That sum-bitch could swallow your arm.

Jesus balls! he’d exclaim under his breath
on days his wife and whining kids plagued him
past exasperation.  Holy flappin’ balls — meant
we’d best quit yapping and keep out of his way.

Jeez, Mom said, her bottom lip curled,
her two dollar door prize ticket winning a measly
set of plastic spoons.  Jeez, what a gyp.
Or, Gol darn it.  She’d plop herself down on the couch,
cross her arms and declare herself on strike.
I’m not your slave, she’d protest.  Gol darn it anyways! 

Poet’s Notes:  What’s a “swear” word?  Who decides?  Why do we care? 

I was born and raised in dairy farm country – north/central Wisconsin where every pasture everywhere was a green buffet for munching black and white Holstein cows.  “Holy cow!” was our favorite exclamation, and we used it from dawn to dusk and sometimes mumbled it in our sleep, too.  Our mothers and fathers and Sunday School teachers forbid us to “take the Lord’s name in vain,” so we improvised swear words to punctuate our arguments and insults. Holy cow, we’d say, you’re cheating!  Gol darn it, we’d spit, that’s not fair!  If the cows overheard us, they didn’t give a damn.  I mean, darn.

I love to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations.  In some ways, that’s a poet’s job; we’ve been gifted with ears wide and hungry for language in all its uses and misuses, in all its versions and perversions. Walt Whitman, bless his soul, used to walk the streets of Manhattan with an eager ear cocked to the wondrous variety and inventiveness of ordinary speech.  He heard poetry in that.  The “chuff” of the hand, he wrote, the “blab” of the pave (see Editor’s Notes). These words he picked up while loitering near the loading docks while riding streetcars or downing a mug at the pub.  

During his lifetime, Whitman’s poems went largely unread because his poems seemed crude and prosaic in comparison to his contemporaries who employed a more formal and accepted vernacular (see Editor’s Notes). Today, Whitman’s one book, Leaves of Grass, is loved across the globe.  His poems are alive with the living pulse of language.  Many scholars now refer to Whitman as the “father’’ of American poetry.  He certainly has influenced many modern poets, William Carlos Williams, for instance (see Editor’s Notes), and Allen Ginsberg (see Editor’s Notes). He’s influenced me, too. Whitman taught us that poems could sing without a regular rhyme scheme and without high-fallootin’ diction. Whitman taught us to appreciate the music in the barmaid’s banter, to marvel at the fireworks exploding from a teamster’s curse.  

How can you call that poetry?  Lots of people are still asking this question. Your poems sound like someone talking, they say. Isn’t that just prose?  Well, yes, a clear demarcation between poetry and prose no longer exists. Some poetry is prosaic. Some prose is poetic.  To explore this issue, I recommend reading an exceptionally brilliant poem called “One Morning Shoeing Horses” by Henry Taylor (see Editor’s Notes), who won the Pulitzer Prize back in the 1970s for his book The Flying Change.  I won’t say much about this poem; I’m hoping you will read it and discover its power on your own.  The poem just sounds like someone talking, if you read without pausing at the end of each line.  And it rhymes.  

Editor’s Notes:  Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, Part 46, stanza 6, line 1 reads, “If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip,”  Part 8, stanza 4, line 1 reads, “The blab of the pave, tires of carts, sluff of boot-soles, talk of the promenaders,”

A short biography of Walt Whitman may be read here

For commentary on Whitman’s influence on Williams, see

For an essay on Whitman’s influence on Ginsberg, see

"Holy Cow!" will appear in Lowell's verse-play Someday I'd Write This Down

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Gratitude" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

"Horse" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Lowell Jaeger

I’m driving the long way home.
Meandering along a backroad meadow
where I’ve stalled to breathe
and watch the horses play.
Let their blood and flesh, grazing
knee-deep in fireworks of wildflowers,
lift me.

Why do I say “play”?
Horses I’ve known up close
shudder and twitch with nervous alert.

Poor brutes,
fenced to boredom, plagued
with flies, thistles, and thirst.

And yet they do play.
They step toward me
shyly, as if to welcome me.
As if to ask what news I might bring.

And I answer by stroking their necks.
Resting a hand in the softness
just above the nostrils.
Where they inhale my gratitude.

And graciously stand with me.
As if to confirm the world’s possibilities.
Foremost of which, despite our separate hardships,
is the goodness of this day.

Poet’s Notes:  Crazy Horse, Lakota statesman, is credited with having coined the phrase, “It is a good day to die,”(Le anpetu kin mat'e kin was'te ktelo.) -- a much-misunderstood statement.  The translation, as translations so often go, may be twisted.  I once had the pleasure of accompanying Lois Red Elk, Lakota elder and poet, on a long drive across Montana, during which Lois educated me on many topics, including the notion of a “good day to die.” 

How can there be a good day to die?  Sounds like a Kamikaze’s war cry, like suicide.  Too many people hear only the “die” part of these words, Lois told me.  More attention should be paid to the “good day” part, wherein resides important Lakota wisdom. A good day to die is the moment I am truly alive, when I walk with attention to the miracle of my own experience, when I feel deep gratitude for the wondrous and mysterious gift of life in the first place, when I walk knowing that I came from the stars and that I am made of the same stuff as the faraway lights in the night sky. Then, if I die, I go knowing what it is to be truly alive. 

I hope, in saying what I’ve just said, I’m not twisting things. “Poetry,” said Robert Frost, “is what’s lost in translation.”  When I consider what it means to be truly alive, I can feel the poetry of “a good day to die.”  

I can glimpse, too, poetry in the Navajo expression, “I walk in beauty.” It’s a phrase repeated in the Navajo “Blessing Way” chant, a sacred ceremony.  This I learned while teaching on the Navajo Reservation. (Do you hear that? . . . I “learned” while “teaching?”  Oh, please let us educate one another!)

And here’s another translation of pretty much the same thinking, this one from the German tongue.  Read Robert Bly’s translation of Goethe’s poem “The Holy Longing”  I’ve memorized it and I still get the shivers every time I’m called to stand up and recite this strange and powerful poem.  I’m enraptured by the title alone.  Don’t we all have longings?  And what’s the most important, the holiest, longing of all? . . . To know what it is to be truly alive.  Goethe says, “I praise what is truly alive, / what longs to be burned to death.”  That’s the Germanic version of a “good day to die.”

Gratitude for life is not an easy lesson to learn.  I know I’ve been ignorant and blind for most of my days. Gratitude is a kind of waking from ignorance.  Pinch me, dear friend, if you see I’ve dozed off again.  Goethe’s poem ends here: “And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, / you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”

Editor’s Note:  “Gratitude” was previously published in Miramar, and Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

"Genesis" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

Lowell Jaeger

In the beginning, at the kitchen table,
"Practice" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
my three children with paper and crayons,
shoulders bent low and hands fisting
the task before them.

Lo, through the wide windows
the morning shown down upon artistic intentions,
and the sun’s slant rays rained
a glittered drift of pine pollen, spray of stardust,
as pages transformed, filled

with trees of leafy green, turquoise lake and sky, purple-grey  
cluster of clouds enshrouding the highest reaches
of a distant craggy range.  Whole neighborhoods
begotten. Barns.  Fenced acres of spotted cattle, grazing.

And birds everywhere. I could hear them sing
as I passed through the room on this day
of creation, pulled on my boots, opened the door,
to behold the vastness, the particulars, the swirl

and churn of genesis, circumstance and inspiration,
my children and their children and theirs awash
in the world’s possible outcomes, joyously enraptured, laboring
to guide the butterfly — this one colored orange/yellow —

supping from a tall flower,
which hath blossomed bold and blood red.
That one.  Corner of the garden.  
Edge of the page. Right there. 

Poet’s Notes:  A poet has three levels of consciousness buzzing constantly and simultaneously. The first level is the Do-er; he’s the one who walks the streets day to day rubbing elbows with the physical world.  He’s absorbed in the work at hand, whatever tasks he encounters. 

Second, there’s the See-er.  He’s observing what the Do-er does.  He’s watching how the Do-er interacts with others, and he’s learning, learning, learning.  He’s calculating strategies and consequences. To the See-er, all endeavors are a bit ridiculous, but he’s bemused (and deeply touched) by the comedy and tragedy of the” human condition.”  

The third level is the Star-child.  He truly is the “space cadet.”  He knows he’s made of hell-fire and stardust.  From his far view, he sees the Earth as a pitiable and lost grain of sand soaring in the black outer reaches of creation.  He watches as time unfolds, as everything comes and goes. Everyone is everybody, and no one is anybody.

No experience in my life has taught me more than becoming a parent.  (And now, a grandparent!)  You’d need to be almost blind not to see yourself in your kids and not to see your kids in you.  The whole notion of biological reproduction gives me goosebumps, leaves me nearly speechless.  Buddhists talk about how everything we encounter is instructing us, waking us to see who and what we are.  

I look at my children and I see I am beautiful.  This is obvious.  I see that there’s a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other and what matters is that they never stop their cosmic quarrel.  “Be careful in casting out your demons,” wrote William Blake, “because your angels may just leave with them.” (see Editor's Note)  This is confusing at times--at times even confounding.  

When my kids are giggling, I see how laughter comes bubbling up from the heart and I feel new joy in witnessing where some of my old joy has relocated.  Kids can get angry and kids can hate.  I see my DNA has enriched my children’s tricky-stubborn souls with those possibilities, too.  All of these tensions between contraries are like a fist full of crayons.  And look!  So many blank, white pages waiting open for each of us.

“Dad, you’re a good maker,” said one of my daughters.  I’m a silversmith, and she was only three, standing behind me, watching me torching metals at my workbench.  This was a high compliment.  Aren’t we all “makers?”  Aren’t we all shaping our lives and in doing so, shaping the world around us? Sure, our tiny creations are no more than bee farts in comparison to so many bigger things happening in the universe.  But in the poem “Genesis,” I’m a maker in shoes, watching myself walk through the room. And I’m one happy cluster of star slag, amazed at how far I’ve traveled and how far I’ll go.

Editor’s Note:  It was Friedrich Nietzsche who once said, "Be careful, lest in casting out your demon you exorcise the best thing in you."  Although demons and angels were the subject of much of Blake's work, the Editor found no evidence of a similar quote attributed to William Blake.

“Genesis” was previously published in Earth-blood & Star-shine, and Joy Anthology.

Monday, August 27, 2018

"Auntie Doe-Doe" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

Auntie Doe-Doe
Lowell Jaeger

"Aunt" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Auntie Doe-Doe, bless her bones
underground, consumed us kids in constant fear
she’d scoop us up in her big strong arms
and smother us to her bosom
if we passed her too near.  For this
we secretly admired her, though we dare
never let on. Simply wasn’t characteristic

for my siblings and I to press flesh
to flesh, let alone to be lifted mid-stride,
cuddled and smooched on.  Doe-Doe
wasn’t really one of us, our parents explained,
an in-law.  And we could tell the truth of that
by the way she couldn’t stop being contrary
amidst our kind who kept our hands
to ourselves and stood apart like strangers.

We could conclude, too, by her flame-red
head of electric frizz —tied like a gypsy
with a black bandana —she’d risen from some other
bloodline, a rosy-cheeked race of soft round people.
People with green eyes bright as insect wings.
People who laughed a lot and wore freckles,
freckles everywhere like a room of loud wallpaper.

People who accentuated voluptuousness
by wearing a dust of powdered sugar
on their baking smocks.  People who, 
when we couldn’t escape them, left us
blushing with lingering sweetness.  Left us
brushing their smudges off our t-shirts.  Left us
filling again with our accustomed emptiness.
Left us breathless and wanting more.

Poet's Notes:  Someone (I think I read somewhere) said, “Anyone who has lived at least seven years on this earth has enough material to write about for the rest of his life.” (see Editor's Note)  Especially when we are young, we are in possession of what we now call “fresh eyes,” an unsullied perspective which opens us literally to “see” what others cannot.

My Auntie Doe-Doe fascinated me because she was so unlike the rest of us.  As a kid, I detected a smoldering resentment emanating from my mom’s side of the family each time Doe-Doe entered the room. Doe-Doe smiled and laughed a lot; the rest of us did not.  Doe-Doe hugged and smooched us on the cheek; the rest of us flinched if even by accident we grazed flesh against flesh.

Doe-Doe, I now realize, was my first love, though I dared not show how much I enjoyed her because she was taboo, an outsider, not of our blood.  That’s the story I was told . . . the message relayed with frowns of disapproval . . . but with “fresh eyes” I saw through that story.  What I saw was that Doe-Doe made the rest of us look like a pack of sour-faced Puritans.

As I have aged, I more and more relish quiet space and time to re-examine my childhood.  I chuckle inside when I think about Auntie Doe-Doe.  I saw who she was, who she truly was, and I admired her.  That’s the wisdom of a child.

Editor's Note:  It was Flannery O'Connor who said, "Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days." (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1970)

"Auntie Doe-Doe" first appeared in Earth-blood & Star-shine.

Friday, August 24, 2018

"Gnats in Love" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

Gnats in Love
Lowell Jaeger

"Silhouette" Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Late evening and we’re winding our way,
my wife and I, up the path from the lake.
Is that fog? My wife asks, pointing at our home
on the hillside above us.  Both of us blink
and stare.  Can’t be, I say.  Not the season.

Still, an eerie haze has inexplicably descended,
enshrouding the entire structure, reducing
roof and windows and doors to a single gauze
apparition, alive in slant sunlight, roiling with incandescent
neon blues and greens as if boiled

from a cauldron. My wife takes my hand,
edges closer, and we stand uncertain, more
awestruck than afraid. It’s something
frightfully beautiful, other-worldly, strange.  It’s moving, 
slowly, south along the lakeshore, till it’s gone.

In its wake, billions of bodies, each no bigger
than a speck, piles of them — spent bugs — fallen in drifts
around the foundation, peppered across our windowsills.
Well, now we’re abuzz with an appreciation for small things.

We fetch a magnifying glass and whisper, push our noses
closer.  The tiny wings quiver when we breathe nearby.

Poet’s Notes:  “In a dark time,” wrote Theodore Roethke, “the eye begins to see.” He also wrote the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful lines I know: “Snail, snail, glister me forward, / Bird, soft-sigh me home, / Worm, be with me. / This is my hard time.” (see Editor's Note).  When he was low, he turned to nature for solace.  And he turned there for wisdom.  

Roethke in many ways saw the world through the eyes of a child, as many artists do.  Children are curious about bugs and birds and frogs and fish.  Children remember to look up and watch how the sky changes.  Children are in tune with the strange murmuring-everlasting conversation of the stars.  Aren’t we truly cousins to all squawking, crawling, leaping, tunneling, feeding creatures great and small?

When we die, our lives “flash” before our eyes.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s sure what many people say. Difficult for me to imagine that my entire life — down to the pettiest detail, like what I had for breakfast on an obscure morning umpteen years ago — is worth re-viewing on my way into the great beyond.  Rather, I’d bet we see a slideshow of particular moments that moved us, shaped us, in some lasting way.  Or maybe we page through a big leather album of mental snapshots. Many of my poems are mental snapshots. Ponder this: Why do some memories lodge deep within and never leave while so many rush past us and never look back?

The first time I ever passed through Yellowstone National Park was sort of by accident; I was hitchhiking west, riding that day with a middle-aged philosophy professor, a man I’d just met and admired more and more as he confided in me the farthest reaches of his heart.  (People picked up hitchhikers and did that back then.)  He was on his way to a new teaching job and new digs. Seemed to me his life was perfect.  He was scholarly and curious and making his own way.

I have an indelible imprint of this man in my mind, the moment we stood before a wide vista of wildflowers and tall yellow prairies rising toward forested foothills and snowcapped rocky summits beyond.  “If only I had someone to share this with,” he said.  So . . . his life wasn’t perfect after all.  As I’m spitting out my last sighing breath, this is one of the memories I’ll want to be included in my inventory of influences. This was the moment I realized that we all need someone and that whatever is great and beautiful to us is somehow diminished if it can’t be shared.

“Gnats in Love” is a love poem.  My wife and I are sharing a moment of wonder while witnessing a swarm of mating bugs.  We are awed at life’s fecundity.  Roethke would understand.  So would a child.

Editor’s Note:  The lines by Roethke quoted by Lowell are taken from his poem "The Lost Son"

“Gnats in Love” was first published in Joy Anthology.

FC Zanelli: A Classical Poet

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that Frequent Contributor Alessio Zanelli’s poem “How Would We Like Our Existence To Be?” has been published by The Society of Classical Poets, which deals only with formal verse,

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Hitchhiker" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

"Crooked River Gorge" Watercolor & Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Lowell Jaeger

No snapshot of this exists except
for the shutter of memory’s random
flash impressions. So much else
went by unrecorded, almost as if
it never happened. Or — if it did —
my eyes were closed and the light shut out.

But that dawn woke with my bones
half frozen — frost on the prickly pear,
the sky pooled ice-blue, 
and snowcapped distant peaks ablaze
in the early sun’s glare.  Three days
from home, and no one had warned me

how high-country desert nights turned
arctic, how each star looked down
with a barren stare. How I’d shiver
fitfully with hard-scrabble exhaustion
where I’d been dropped at a back-country
exit to rolling expanses of open range.  How I’d rise

through misery and dance like a madman
to flush my chilled limbs with fresh 
blood.  How I’d laugh and fling my useless
summer-camp sleeping bag to its final
demise in a forgotten ravine.  Then
shoulder my rucksack and step toward

the highway, inhaling the moment,
dizzied, a-tingle, awed by the earth at my feet,
thrilled to be my body walking, waking
amidst pungent sage, letting the sun’s new rays
seep in; absolutely certain I’d carry with me
the joy of this and someday write it down.

Poet’s Notes:  Somewhere along the way, or maybe straight out of the womb, I’ve been anointed with fairy dust.  Somedays I’m amazed to look back at my earlier life and I’ve no clear explanation of how or why I’m still here.  

I once awoke in the sage desert of eastern Oregon, having blindly thrown my sleeping bag on the ground only a few short steps from the edge of The Crooked River Gorge. An awesome crevasse in the earth, and – since I’d stumbled my way from the highway in darkness – I didn’t even know it was there.  Three paces short of an early exit to the ever-after, and I didn’t even know it was waiting.  Yet, when I opened my eyes that morning, I was flooded with awe and joy. 

Near Oslo, Norway, I once looked a Mack truck in the headlights headed smack toward my young innocent face in the passenger seat of a Volvo stopped in the wrong lane at a railroad crossing.  I could see the truck driver’s panic as he braked and downshifted.  I sat immovable as stone, though not because I’m brave. I just knew I’d walk away unscathed.  That sounds foolish, even as I write this.  I apologize to the gods for that.  I’ve been lucky.  I’ve been blessed.  I’ve been dusted with magic. 

Literature is full of “coming of age” stories.  Folktales offer abundant accounts of the “hero’s journey” in which the young man or woman leaves home and transforms internally after facing external challenges.  All of us, of course, have completed journeys of our own, though so many of us are unaware. Poets, on the other hand, live mythically, always composing the story to tell – the story of our lives -- even before we find the ending ourselves. Sure, we bend the facts, embellish the highs and lows, shape the plot to suit the audience and to please ourselves. I was born to do this work and I relish telling tales.

When I began scribbling in my notebook the first draft of the poem “Hitchhiker,” I had no idea I’d write . . .” waking/ amidst pungent sage, letting the sun’s new rays/ seep in; absolutely certain I’d carry with me/ the joy of this and someday write it down.” The poem took me there to remind me I’d tumbled to earth from a falling ball of flame.  Those lines opened my eyes like awakening in the early glare of the day-star and the menacing splendor of The Crooked River Gorge. 

Editor’s Note:  “Hitchhiker” was previously published in Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone, and Verse Virtual.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Griz" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

Lowell Jaeger

"Grizzly" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon

Narrow trail twists through neck-high thickets
of alders and hellebore, climbs onward around a blind turn,
and there he is: big hunk of shaggy brown griz, stopped
in his tracks, nose in the air, sniffing
intruders’ sweat wafting suddenly too near.

Three of us and one of him, sufficient heft on his bones
to bulldoze forward if he chooses, mulling this over
as he rocks on his forelegs, his hulking shoulders
flexing side to side.  
                                    Nothing to rescue us but precious little 
time, as we step back, slowly, the way we came,
savvy enough to not stare at him head-on.
Careful not to shuffle wrong and stumble.  Outcome
could be one account or another.  

And now he’s looming above us, continuing past, as we
wait meekly, downhill side, scant yards off-trail.
He’s god of where he wants to go. Our silence
is a kind of weak-kneed prayer.

Poet’s Notes:  There’s more to each of us than we can know.  We can be insightful in examining ourselves and we can be absolutely blind.  

I have a poster-sized “Johari Window” (see Editor's Note) in my classroom at Flathead Valley Community College. The poster generates a lot of thinking and hours of useful talk.  It resembles a large window frame containing four quadrants: 1) The public self -- what we know and show of ourselves. 2) The private self -- what we know we are hiding from others. 3) The blind self -- what others see in us that we can’t see.  4)  The undiscovered self – what no one knows of us, not even ourselves.

The fourth quadrant – the undiscovered self – is most intriguing. There’s a vast unexplored horizon in each of us.  When a crisis thrusts itself into my life, I’m lost in the wilderness, face-to-face with the undiscovered self.  Combat vets know this.  I’ve had vets in class who just shake their heads with dismay when younger students boast about being brave and fearless.  “Just wait,” they say, “you might be surprised.”  Life can corner you in places you never dreamt you’d be.  Then what?  You might find reserves you never knew you contained, or you might crumble.

I love the grizzly bear.  I hate the grizzly bear.  Hiking the Montana backcountry means risking an encounter with a hairy giant.  He’s beautiful in the same way watching a tornado rip up a hillside of corn is awesome and thrilling. He’s also earth-shaking. He can outrun, out climb, out swim, out arm wrestle all of us.  Grizzlies maul hikers every spring, summer, and fall. Mostly the bears don’t set out to do us in, but it happens.  One swipe of his paw can rip your flesh open like the ax of a barbarian warrior. Worst of all, he’s unpredictable, peevish, and difficult to read.  Just don’t come too near, make no eye contact, and make no sudden moves. Don’t carry bacon in your backpack.  Don’t assume you will handle yourself with dignity and resolve.

The poem “Griz” comes from an actual encounter with Ursus horribilis in Glacier National Park.  The poem is less than half the story.  After my two friends and I backed off the trail and Mr. Griz had continued on his way, we spied a solo hiker rounding the next blind switchback, heading dead-on toward confrontation with the same beast. When we signaled and hollered, he thought we were just being neighborly, I guess.  We were horror-struck to see he was eating a sandwich as he trekked along.

Editor’s Note:  Those interested in understanding the Johari Window model will find a helpful article here

“Griz” was previously published in Barking Sycamores, Earth-blood & Star-shineThe Whitefish Review, and Wilderness Walks Anthology.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

"Grandma’s Basement" Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

"Unknown" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Grandma’s Basement
Lowell Jaeger

Dad had to fix something broken down there
every fall, and I’d shudder and twitch,
following his footsteps into the mildewed dank,
thirteen stone steps below daylight.
Where the black coal-fired furnace waited
on its haunches like a blind beast
smothered in cobwebs and dust, its ductwork
tentacles groping toward the floorboards above.

In the yellow flicker of Dad’s lantern,
shadows flit and slithered across cinderblock walls
wet with sweat. While Dad banged on this and banged
on that and pried rusted couplings with curses and grunts,
I’d stand guard like a green recruit, half sturdy soldier
making certain Dad didn’t kick over his light, half
momma’s-boy — too cowardly to unclench his fists
and fetch Dad’s wrench where he’d dropped it.

I’d clamber out of that hole holding my breath
till I could touch sunshine and swallow fresh air.
And felt my shoulders relax when Dad lifted
the heavy storm-cellar doors, fastened the hasp,
and snapped the padlock shut.

I’d sit invisible in the kitchen.  Listen to the furnace
whispering beneath us. Listen to my heart
pounding. Listen to Grandma complain
about Dad having ruined her dishrags
scrubbing soot from his forearms and face.

Poet’s Notes:  What is the imagination?  We really don’t know.  For all our wondrous technical gadgetry and all our triumphant push to unlock the secrets of the universe, we still don’t know what, exactly, is the human imagination. And I’m glad. Here’s to hoping there’s always a mystery unsolved!

The old left-brain right-brain model depicting our craniums has now been revised to say it’s simply not as simple as we had previously thought.  We’ve glimpsed our ignorance, and that’s real progress. God bless science for that; we keep eliminating our foolish earlier thoughts.

I tend to idealize the imagination because I’m in love with my own.  I once thought, if only everyone had a powerful imagination, the world would be better.  Now I’ve glimpsed the foolishness of that early thought.  An imagination is napalm in the grey matter of a man who can’t separate fact from fiction.  A soaring imagination can build a cathedral and it can also burn it down with the faithful still on their knees inside.

When I was in junior high, I heard Robert Kennedy’s words, "Some men see things as they are, and ask why.  I dream of things that never were, and ask why not."” I was in gym class, moved to tears and compelled to hide in the locker room.  A twelve-year-old boy is not supposed to cry. Those words of that gallant man reached into my core.  I was born to think like that.  Good for me.  Too bad for me.

As a kid, I spent long days lost in glorious reverie. I paddled up the Missouri with Lewis and Clark.  I plundered with Robin Hood.  And, as a kid, I also had night terrors.  A host of demons kept pounding on my door to get in.  

In “Grandma’s Basement,” I imagined the massive body of the old coal furnace as a giant squid and I was Captain Nemo.  Then I imagined the furnace was a giant squid and I was just me.  Then I forgot which was which and if I were imagining or not.  

I was a nervous and fearful kid though I seldom let on.  In the back seat of the family car, I’d hold my breath every time we drove over a bridge.  Every bridge will collapse someday, and maybe —who knows? —this is the day.

“Oh, that’s just your imagination,” parents and teachers told me as if it were a worthless thing. I held onto it anyway and I learned to ride it like rafting whitewater, like hitching a ride on a shooting star.

Editor's Note:  "Grandma's Basement" was previously published in Broad Water Review, and Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Contest Judge Lowell Jaeger Publishes Verse-Play

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that this year’s Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest guest judge Montana Poet Laureate Lowell Jaeger has published an original verse-play, “Someday I’d Write This Down: An exploration of consciousness.”  The play will debut September 6 at the Flathead Valley Community College Theatre in Kalispell, Montana and run through September 8.  Tickets are available at the FVCC Bookstore and online at

"Ghosting Home" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

"Dust" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Ghosting Home
Lowell Jaeger

In his final years, my father’s frame
shrunk, while his wardrobe stayed the same.
Where once his belly might have overlapped
beleaguered belt loops of his stain-dappled
pants, now he’d contracted inches enough
the waistband gapped. Shoulders of his rough
denim work shirts outsized him day-by-day,
his shoes so loose they threatened to walk away

without him.  I could hardly stomach the pace
of his diminishing size; but, in truth, his face . . .
well, I couldn’t face him.  That spooked look
magnified behind thick-rimmed lenses.  The hook
of his nose chiseled narrow as a blade.
His mouth gaped open, quivering and afraid,
the jaw slackened till the lips rounded
the relentless oh-oh-oh of a soul astounded

by his own decline. My siblings lived nearby
and tenderly, bravely nursed him.  And I
lived an insulated two day’s drive apart from the pack,
I thought, but duty or guilt brought me back.
Or was it love? I wanted to ask him but lost
the chance, though I said it anyway as I tossed
a handful of dust on his coffin.  And turned to go.
And drove home slowly, knowing what I know.

Poet’s Notes:  As a middle-child, I felt largely overlooked for most of my life.  Middle children are prone to feeling like outsiders.  I do not wish to engage in self-pity; oldest and youngest children must bear separate challenges of their own station and so do all siblings in between.  Yet, I’m amused to have just written the sentence. How like a middle-child to concede his own pain as not so important, really. And what a strange place to begin this little reflection on the poem “Ghosting Home.”  Why begin here?

We pay the psychologist by the hour for “the talking cure.”  We sit or recline on the couch and talk, talk, talk.  We reveal to the shrink what we’ve kept hidden even from our next of kin and at times we discover we’ve hidden important stuff from ourselves, too.  This feels painful and good at the same time.  One can only guess why this is so, but each of us in his own time has experienced this. “Feels good to have gotten that off my chest,” we say. 

We’ve made a lasting and popular metaphor for our emotional-psychic troubles; we call them our “burden” and we “carry” them like “baggage.”  The talking cure seems to let us abandon box loads of heavy rocks along the roadside so we can drive away into the sunset seeking even more inventive discord.  (Sorry, does that sound snarky?  Ask yourself this: do you know anyone on this wide wonderful planet who holds the keys to Nirvana for good and forever?)

What have we hidden from others, especially our nearest and dearest?  What have we hidden from ourselves?  Well, I love a good mystery and I was short on clues and plenty curious for years as to why I felt so torn apart whenever I crossed the continent to visit the home-place and try once again to connect with family. 

I’m suggesting here that penning the poem “Ghosting Home” was, for me, a talking-cure.  I said things in this poem I’d never before spoken and I found what I’d kept hidden from myself most of all. Sure, I’d always been an alien to my family, at least I believed it so, but I’d also become an alien to the workings of my own heart.

Editor’s Note:  “Ghosting Home” was previously published in Atlanta ReviewFront Range Review, and Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone.