Consider the photo of the author skiing in Taos (where she works as a ski instructor when she’s not writing and teaching writing) and then consider the first lines of the first poem—
When we pause at the near edge
of memory or invention and elect
not to venture further, we fail…
—and keep these in mind as you read through this gorgeous selection of poems by an author/skier who, in her maturity, has allowed herself to go over some visionary edge and both lament and glorify the universal desire for being and presence (read “desire” as absence—oh, my goodness, that beautiful lost turquoise metaphor in the first poem and the image later on of the author looking in at the village windows). Leslie Ullman manages to make the cosmic intimate and personal and vice versa. It’s breathtaking to see a poet writing at this level of daring, elegance, and mastery.
When we pause at the near edge
of memory or invention and elect
not to venture further, we fail
to consider that invisible journeys, too,
leave dried mud and grass on our shoes;
that one can dream of waltzing with
a stranger, following every
subtle lead, and wake up happy
or be consoled by a fragrant loaf
mentioned briefly in a poem.
The vast bowl of the desert once held
an ocean we can borrow any time
we cup our minds around it like hands
around spinning clay. Once, I halted
on a winter street when I noticed the turquoise
stone had slipped from the center of my ring.
I reversed my steps and searched for hours,
peering downward for a bit of sky,
seeing every crevice in the dark pavement
for the first time, every sodden leaf
and twig. I fingered the empty bezel, sky
filling my mind. Luminous. Parachute of blue.
Not revelation shot from the hip
by Fresh-schooled Mind practicing its aim
on the future, or fact Administrative
Mind wields like a mallet, never waiting
to see what wing-fragile contours
it might settle around, never accepting or
offering it like a handful of water that holds
its shape even as some leaks between the fingers
the truth, as incipience,
is rarely allowed to slip into the ear of
someone in the street talking rapidly into
an invisible phone as though talking to himself
or to settle beside him in the airport lounge
as he taps money and one-liners into
his keyboard; is rarely glimpsed sideways by
the young mother rushing in shoes that pinch,
after hours of setting plates before others, through a haze
of fumes towards the aluminum glare of the bus
she may miss; is rarely allowed presence
like a word thought before it is spoken
or a note that is less sound than an exhalation
riding the air from another latitude
long after it has signaled, from a burnished
gong, the end of a ritual meditation
or like the thick fur of an animal almost camouflaged
amid dark trees on a moonless night,
a large animal believed to be dangerous
when removed from his world, or when his world
is altered by our presence in it.
DON’T SLEEP YET
This is what you’ve longed for,
drops tapping the shingles
and the silent flowering of each word
printed on the page before you.
Water pours off the eaves and drips
on the dead leaves outside, and you
are held, held the way wood and glass
were meant to hold you. Keep
the rain. You need the privacy
tomorrow will shred to bits. Blue
rain. Streaked wind. The lamp
pulling the room around it. The book
pulling your life around it. The rain
is trying to tell you a story
of going outside and
coming back in.
THE STORY I NEED
—after a line by Ricardo Molinari
Ah, if only the village were so small
and I could look into others’ windows by
looking into my own cupped hands
to see what steams on their
plates, or read the spines of books
on their shelves, all those lives
to open one at a time, I might hold
the history of civilization a little closer
to my own small history—bread
passed down from the centuries, leather boots
on flagstone, couples’ first words
in the morning—not for the privacies
but as proof of the way buildings hold the countless
small movements of words and bodies
through space, and for the feeling
that I, too, am drying the cups and putting them away
or sitting at the tavern, a chessboard
open between me and the oldest inhabitant
or joining a family at their picnic on the green,
unable to distinguish myself from
the murmuring parents and noisy siblings
gathered around the cheese and pears
they have chosen, in a world
of possibilities, to set on the bright cloth.
Leslie Ullman is a prize-winning poet, friend, colleague (at Vermont College of Fine Arts) and ski instructor (in Taos). Also a graceful, intelligent presence whenever she is around. She is Professor Emerita at University Texas-El Paso, where she taught for 25 years and started the Bilingual MFA Program. She has published three poetry collections: Natural Histories, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1979; Dreams by No One’s Daughter, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1987; and Slow Work Through Sand, co-winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, University of Iowa Press, 1998. Individual poems have appeared in numerous magazine, including Poetry Magazine, The New Yorker, Arts & Letters, and Poet Lore. Her essays have been published in Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, Denver Quarterly, The AWP Writer’s Chronicle, and Numéro Cinq. (Author skiing photo by Peter Lamont.)
Such a pleasure to read these – the first time feeling the dark star moments and the second time finding some centres. I haven’t found them all yet. I will be back both for those I have and those I haven’t.
Wonderful poems. Thank you for them, and for the grand & quiet magic they infused into what I thought was an ordinary, noisy morning.
These are stunning! Thank you, Leslie, for the “world of possibilities” opened by these poems.
Leslie, I like the last one there “The Story I Need.” I know it’s probably not intentional but it reminds me of de-distancing in Heidegger.
Also, the way you continue sentences over/between (I am not sure what preposition to use here (which in itself is an added tricky ambiguity– line breaks as a physical characteristic of the poem or a negation of text as an instant of reflection mid-sentence)) line breaks adds a really cool sense of distance and tension that both drives the poem and sort of pulls the eye along. It creates, in a way, both an intellectual and physical effect which is interesting and a device I might try.
Consider Desire is so luscious. It took me for a ride; my heart ached reading it…
Loved reading these poems, Leslie! And congrats on the Pushcart. Missa yr face.
Leslie! Your poems are so glorious. Consider Desire took me at once to places between loss and discovery. Thank you, and congratulations on the nominations.
I’m loving Leslie’s new book!