Jul 012017

Rick Jackson


We never know where the paths of the sunlight begin
or where they end. The first sundial was called a Gnomon,
meaning one who knows, from the 35th century Mesopotamia,
and still used by African Bushmen.

…………………………………………………This morning I feel I have
come from a place I no longer remember. The light seems
to genuflect on the roadside. There’s a ditch here but it carries
its own stories from somewhere near the top of the ridge.
The darkness won’t abandon its secret places. Sometimes
it seems we are like those characters in math problems
running towards the rear of a train that’s rushing forward.
Where we were is never where we were. Our maps and
stories are made of mist.

………………………………….In one version it must have been
an important place, what those few worn letters
that were left tried to announce on the brick
wall beside the vacant lot. And that scraggly tree that still
shades the old men who gather there by day, and beside
the fire barrel by night, what attracts all those birds
gathering like broken smoke in the branches? Or it is that
their leaves are made of birdsong. They speak in a language
we know before we hear it. But by the time we arrived
the story had come to its natural close.

……………………………………………………..In another version
the dew is still heavy on the grass. For a moment you are
asleep in my heart. What more can I ask for? I am rocking
inside your breaths. I have turned into the words you whisper.
When I speak to you, I clothe my heart with your heart.
When you tighten and tremble into love, these dreams
wander into distant fields and leave no tracks. I have
never been so lost, I have never been so certain of
where I am. Inside you, it seemed as if you were
quivering with the stars that had faded away billions
of years ago to be reborn in another galaxy.

…………………………………………………………….But you have
your own stories, and your own way of saying what
you miss. Sometimes our versions are dim lights
at the far ends of a street or valley.

………………………………………………..How easy it is
that we have not devoured each other the way some lost
galaxies have swallowed each other since the beginning
of time, or the way the mantis devours its mate so lovingly.



No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an
Old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from
It, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.
—Mark 2:21

A robin dips into a puddle and flutters the water
From its wings. Above him, the fog seems to glow
With a billborard’s neon. He’s in an abandoned lot
Of broken glass that mirrors forgotten images.
There are so many unexplored galaxies behind our
Eyelids. One sailboat capsizes then rights itself
On the river. A city falcon rising into the fog
Must think it has reached heaven. I am on my way
To the airport passing store mannequins that have
Their own dreams. The dreams we have dressed
Ourselves in will need to be patched. Which is
What love is– dreaming ourselves into all new and
Possible forms of love, the way a flame quivers like
A leaf that itself is dreaming it has become a flame.

For Ata and Christina



That deep in the pit I could see the hidden dreams
of daylight stars. If I listened carefully, I could hear
the earth’s plates grumbling. I didn’t know why.
Every once in a while a grudging wind might twist
its way down to me. Every once in a while a raindrop
would leave its thumbprint in the mud. I learned, then,
that our real histories lie in wait in the shadows.
My own brothers tried to kill or sell me, you know
the story. Revenge crumbled from the dirt walls.
But it’s true, I was unfair.  I thought to imprison
them. I dreamt the sheaves and stars bowed
down to me. My own words became my chains.
I was ashamed. What I can’t decipher is your own
cavernous dreams. They have no meanings that don’t
spread out like the tracks of a frightened herd towards
wars, rapes, beheadings and the refugees from the everyday
selling of lives. You thought you could put the moon
in a prison. You called arrogance by the name of
practicality. The books you held sacred you refused
to follow. Pretty soon another day is out of reach.
What will you dream when your words are forgotten?
This morning I watched as a stray dog settled into sleep
among the worn headstones. I do not know whether
he was remembering or forgetting. I think we have to
burrow deep into our own dreams, into the pits of
our worst desires. We have to gather every syllable
in search of a truer meaning. Sometimes our dreams
seek sanctuary in what we can’t say. Why can’t we
clothe our hearts in each others’ hearts? My dream
eddies out of the coves and inlets of these words. Here,
a firefly lights, now and then, the ashes of a dead star.



Winter’s net of black branches has begun to haul in
a few buds and leaves. There’s nothing to explain
our desire to embrace all that surrounds us. A sudden
sun has made the statues glisten. I remember my own
age of cries as dreadful as yours. We all desired
a story different than the one we lived. I sang
whatever was true, however painful or torturous,
not to dwell in those valleys but to climb out of them.
No one wanted to remember the wars, the captivity,
the rapes. No one wanted to remember that we too
did unspeakable crimes. Now your own stories are
so light they drift away like milkweed looking for
some better ground. There isn’t any, there never is.
The moon’s scarred face gives us back our souls.
Saul thought I would drift away, then tried to kill me.
I forgave him as I forgave myself. My own faults now
crumble like pages of a forgotten passion. All I know is
that memory is a place that is nowhere, which is why
we can retrieve the lives we never lived. Each song is
a woods where the paths return always to the beginning.
I sang to invent what I could not remember, or to remember
what I could not invent. It was the only way to let my soul
glisten as if it knew.  Here a few deer step out of the woods.
The cornstalk stubble has been burnt away. The cemetery
Stones are telling only a part of the story but that seems
Enough. A sudden wind nudges the statues awake.



Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what
judgment you  judge, you will be judged; and with
the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
—Matthew 7:1, NKJV.

Today it would be Jordan. I would wear a head scarf.
It would be the same sun eating the dirt, making thorns
of the air. I left my people yes, but love them still, while
their lands are bulldozed, the same lands you once
exiled them to, where my husband lay. Because you left
the fallen grain for the poor I went to gather it. It is
that same dust that seasons our food, the same wind
that is sandpaper on the face. You could map my journey
by its tendrils of pain. I was still a foreigner.  I was
ready to pull down the clouds around me. But I knew
that the new belief was tolerance. What has happened?
The birds and snakes have become planes and tanks.
The words you once used to embrace have changed into
words that will strangle you. There is no other ending.
My own road took me to a Bethlehem before yours.
My own road took me to a husband whose words
cloaked me. This morning a sparrow pecking uselessly
for worms would not give up, its wings fluttering like
a heart. It paid no attention to the contrails of jets.
The face of the desert has a look this evening that
I would like to call home, that I would like to call love.



What I never understood was that I never owned
even myself. I used to listen to the river trying to claw
its way back to the hills over the rapids. I used to walk
only in the shadows that seemed to spread like thrown
cloaks in front of me. Everything we own is owned by
something else. In the end we’d fight for the dew
that collects on the fallen, the clouds that seem to shade
an enemy, even the faint tracks the robber would leave
in the alleyway.

…………………….And now? One morning someone blows
himself up or sends a missile down some chimney just
to own the breath he’ll soon exhale. Our words are
vapor as the Preacher says. We have to remember how
the wind blows away the wind. We have to escape
the mind’s broken bridges.  We have to let our hearts
empty themselves in the sea.

………………………………………..One day I could feel
the sun burn into my hands and side. Another day
it seemed the devils leaving Arezzo were shadows
of stars. There are so many things we see that have
no words, so many words written in invisible ink.

We have to learn the language of birds which is prayer.
There is always another heart within the heart, for
what we own is never what we have, what we love
is never what we own

………………………………just as the woman in Nigeria knew
caring for the friends whose body had become pustules
and leaked their own blood, putting on their wounds like
a cloak, like Job, like more than all the love we can own.

—Richard Jackson


Richard Jackson has published over twenty books including fourteen books of poems, most recently Traversings (Anchor and Plume, 2016) Retrievals (C&R Press, 2014), Out of Place (Ashland, 2014), Resonancia (Barcelona, 2014, a translation of Resonance  from Ashland, 2010), Half Lives: Petrarchan Poems (Autumn House, 2004), Unauthorized Autobiography: New and Selected Poems (Ashland, 2003), and Heartwall (UMass, Juniper Prize 2000), as well as four chapbook adaptations from Pavese and other Italian poets. The Heart’s Many Doors is a collection of poems by American poets on the artists Metka Krasovec (Wings press, 2017). A new, limited edition book of prose poems, Fifties, is due from Dayton U later this Sprting. He has translated a book of poems by Alexsander Persolja (Potvanje Sonca / Journey of the Sun) (Kulturno Drustvo Vilenica: Slovenia, 2007) as well as Last Voyage, a book of translations of the early-20th-century Italian poet, Giovanni Pascoli, (Red Hen, 2010). In addition, he has edited the selected poems of Slovene poet, Iztok Osijnik. He also edited nearly twenty chapobooks of poems from Eastern Europe. His own poems have been translated into seventeen languages including Worlds Apart: Selected Poems in Slovene. He has edited two anthologies of Slovene poetryand Poetry Miscellany, a journal.. He is the author of Dismantling Time in Contemporary American Poetry (Agee Prize), and Acts of Mind: Interviews with Contemporary American Poets (Choice Award). He was awarded the Order of Freedom Medal for literary and humanitarian work in the Balkans by the President of Slovenia for his work with the Slovene-based Peace and Sarajevo Committees of PEN International. He has received Guggenheim, NEA, NEH, and two Witter-Bynner fellowships, a Prairie Schooner Reader’s Choice Award, and the Crazyhorse prize, and he is the winner of five Pushcart Prizes and has appeared in Best American Poems ‘97 as well as many other anthologies. Originator of VCFA’s Slovenia Program, he was a Fulbright Exchange poet to former Yugoslavia and returns to Europe each year with groups of students. He has been teaching at the Iowa Summer Festival, The Prague Summer Workshops, and regularly at UT-Chattanooga (since 1976), where he directs the Meacham Writers’ Conference. He has taught at VCFA since 1987. He has won teaching awards at UT-Chattanooga and VCFA. In 2009 he won the AWP George Garret Award for teaching and writing.


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