Friday, August 17, 2018

"dust to dust" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

"Migration" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
dust to dust
Lowell Jaeger

dust to dust
i've heard them say
part of us 
just blown away

i sit by the river
watch it fall
can't believe  
dust is all

what about the water part
sweat and piss  
my bloody heart

drop by drop
with ocean tides 
my body’s currents ride

snow-melt trickles
in each vein
this earthen vessel
carries rain

Poet’s Notes:  So . . . one fine summer day, I escorted an Elderhostel writing workshop to nearby Glacier National Park.  We stopped at a wayside along McDonald Creek where we spread out so that each of us could sit and write and reflect in solitude.  I’ve made a good habit of writing along with my students. This takes some courage; often my first drafts are embarrassing, failed attempts to succeed at my own assignments.

That day had some magic in it.  The sunshine and azure sky above us, the snow-capped summits surrounding us, the turquoise glacial run-off rushing past beside us  . . . so many wondrous things to view, so much sensory stimuli. From where I sat on a large boulder in full sun, I could look downstream and see the others perched on ledges and fallen logs, heads bent low, scribbling in notebooks.  

I was still a relatively young man compared to the elders and as I watched them I felt a deep admiration for them.  They were old, yes, and that seemed pitiable, but they were still adventuring and learning.  I said a little prayer in my head for them and one for me, too.  I asked that if there were a life after this one, let it be like today, full of gratitude and wonder and desire.

Suddenly a warm wind hushed its way through the canyon, and in its breath . . . millions of floating angels, the white snowflake-like seeds of cottonwood trees.  This was like a scene imbued with “magical realism,” the stuff of South American novels in which the spirit world makes itself known and nudges us mysteriously.

My pen found the page, and my feelings found words.  Everything was flowing – water, wind, cottonwood seeds. The day itself was twisting toward lower elevations, and so were each of us marvelous creatures, declining year by year, all of us traveling toward some big ocean called the afterlife.

This is one of the few poems I have written that seemed to write itself. It appeared on the page that morning – magically – as if it had always been there.

Editor's Note:  "dust to dust" was previously published in Atlanta Review, Driving the Back Road Home, and Iowa Review.

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