Poem of the Week | July 04, 2016

This week, we present a new poem by Lindsay Wilson. Wilson, an English professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, is the co-editor of The Meadow. He has published five chapbooks, and his first collection, No Elegies, won the Quercus Review Press Spring Book Award in 2014. His poetry has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, Verse Daily, and The Minnesota Review, among others. He serves on the Nevada Writers’ Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
Author’s note:

It is difficult to explain what the work of Philip Levine meant to a kid who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, a place my father sometimes refers to as the “art-free zone.” Levine’s work at age 19 seemed almost impossible. How could someone write about such a blue-collar world and the San Joaquin Valley and Detroit in such a way that made them beautiful? Sure, it was a ramshackle, gritty beauty, filled with contradictions and class issues, but I knew our beauty when I saw it. His work gave me permission to write terrible oil field poetry, to write about roofing, to write about my life, and at that age, I needed someone’s permission to make art. Most of my childhood seemed almost against art—as if what my parents would talk about ran counter to the entire world outside of our home. Levine’s work seemed capable of reconciling working-class contradictions with art. I am not saying anything new about Levine, but these words feel different when they are lived. I tried to pay homage to him, and also to slip into the poem other poetic influences I have picked up due to my love from his work. There are nods to Adrienne Rich, Gary Soto, and Larry Levis in here as well as others. I would have never encountered their poetry, and the poetry of many others, if it was not for Levine. I would have never written this poem or any poem without finding his work.



for Philip Levine

I. Midwinter, High Desert


On the stove the jars boil
clear in their bath, the steam lifts
then twists through our open windows
where the drowsy wasps of February
have woken to stumble against
the screens, groggy in their slow halting
flight like bad news at our door.


This is winter? This heat? This news
showing up with these hornet wings spread
too soon? Even the black-hooded Canadian
geese loitering along these lawns
have begun again to believe in north.


II. It Was Beginning Spring


All along my evening walk to the bar
the bulbs of March push their hard
green blades through the soil. At their roots
they sharpen their bright trumpets.
The cherry trees along the striding avenues
have been swindled into this early budding,
which is why some seasons we gather cherries
and some we do not.
Soon I will bury
my seeds in the garden and there will be much
to can and save, but tonight I drink
to you. At home I left on the porch light,
though the bars here never close.
I’ve already decided I won’t be staggering home.


III. Garden Rising


Turn the earth over the new seeds.
In the catmint bees begin their work.


Dandelion lawn yellows on greens,
saw-toothed leaves in a vinaigrette.


Last summer’s preserves on sourdough.
IPA cool in its tall glass.


Somewhere guitar strings, voices rising.
The blue jays vanish into dusk.


Heat leaves the stone path. In the last hour
of your life there are no chores.


IV. And They’ll Place Pickled Carrots at the Edges of Our Plates


Toast the cumin seeds and coriander
until fragrant in your grandma’s cast iron pan.


Cut the onions into eighths, and the blanched
carrots into coins. While bringing the brine


with its peppercorns and oregano, salt and jalapenos,
to a rolling boil, consider your favorite line


from Lorca. Say it under your breath
until you’ve divided everything into their jars,


and begun their ten-minute bath. This is a good time
to gaze out your window and understand


you can slow time, but not stop it, so rehearse
your possible final words. You only get one chance.


V. Left with This Difficult World, I Confuse Words for Snow


You must have read him in your truck,
biscuit in its foil, hay bales in the bed,
as night finally fell down into
the long shadows of morning.
You must have read him by the cutting
board, the day’s prep list finished,
and all the knives you’ve sharpened
pointing right at you. The grill
cooling. The dishwasher slouched
over his mop. You must have read
him when you were young and leaving
home, standing in line for the train
as snowflakes knitted themselves
into a shawl across your shoulders,
dampening the pages, the words
being blotted out until your fingers
grew stiff and cold, and the wind picked up
until you swore you could barely feel
his book in your hands, and the words
crystallized pure and ink-black
and the book became weightless
as snow fell through the words of the dead.
You swore the flakes and wind
passed right through his lines
until you believed they were no longer there.
Though look again. They are still.