Tag Archives: prose poem

The Left Lane

The Left Lane

Sometimes the present is the bird of prey: on the long morning highway towards work, I see half a mile ahead of me a steady migration of cars from the left lane to the right. This often happens when a driver becomes preoccupied with something other than driving; there’s an equation somewhere for this coefficient of attention and the resulting diminished pressure on the one’s acceleration across this moment of paved lane, and the next thing you know there are cars streaming by to the right, some drivers keeping their eyes straight ahead knowing that they are breaking road protocol by passing on the right, some pausing to stare at the offending driver before gunning past them. Because on a two-lane road winding through the foothills and with as many trucks as vultures settling on the occasional and equally inattentive deer, such behavior is considered rude and is answered in kind, namely by this stream of cars passing on the right while the offender is trapped in the wrong lane, unable to adjust their location to the speed they are going, while a long line of angry and virtually late commuters drifts by. Because to the one being passed, it’s not like someone going eighty miles an hour, it’s like people walking by you who are simply walking faster than you and have no idea why you are walking so slowly. It takes time to be passed when trapped in the left lane.  This morning (though who knows what morning it will be when you read this, maybe one in which you have sped by someone yourself) I follow my basic rules of the road—never be the fastest or slowest on the road, never give the person behind you a chance to ruin your day, never do the same the person in front of you. From the left lane I stay in queue and glide into the right lane behind the car ahead of me, and pass this slow car like every other vehicle is doing. In that comfortable slipstream I glance back into my side rear-view and for just an instant see the distraught expression of the driver—she is old, she is driving a little over the speed limit, she is caught in this pocket of wrong lane by things happening too fast for her to keep up with, and by people who will not let her move over. She’s not doing anything wrong! All this I read in a half-second’s reflection through a windshield coated with morning sun’s glare.  I feel like it is her mind that is glaring off the windshield, not the sun. It is blinding in its clarity.  I want to take my foot off the pedal, let her pass me and take up a position back in the left lane, behind her car, to shield her from the assault of everyone trying to get to the future faster. Is this not the trip my own mother takes each day, alone in a vessel already traveling too fast but not fast enough to catch up to the past or avoid the future? But it’s too late, the driver in a pickup truck behind me is already pushing me forward, and the car behind him, so I tap on the pedal to speed up further, and when I look back again the windshield is dark in the diminishing image in my mirror. And I’m no mind-reader; I’m just another driver passing by, part of the unremitting assault of the present.

2014 Broadside Series: “Drop Everything” (first proofs)

Some shots of first proof off the press. (All photos below were taken by Emily Hancock of St Brigid Press, as she was doing first proofs.) This is on the bamboo paper.

DE_title proofAnd here’s a look at the entire shape of the broadside…

DE_first proof on bamboo2We’re still deciding what the best paper might be.  Emily ran some proofs on other stock and we’re going to go over them with our magnifying glasses and every nerve of our fingertips to see which looks and feels the best. The typeface is 18 pt Centaur, so the paper has to take the ink from a decent size letter while holding to the fine points and handling ligatures.

DE_proof on four papersOf course, it’s impossible to tell the fine differences in these examples without holding them and eyeballing them first-hand. What the heck good is this internet thing anyway if you still have to hoof it over a mountain to see your proofs? (Though there’s always offering free coffee to your printer to get her to come over the mountain to you…)

More later this weekend…


2014 Broadside Series: “Drop Everything”



Work has begun in earnest on a broadside of my prose poem “Drop Everything” over at St Brigid Press in Afton, Virginia. Resident print guru Emily Hancock sent me the photo above after setting the poem and getting it set up on the press for proofing. Tomorrow we should see some first proofs of the work. Some details on the broadside:

The poem is set in Centaur,  a crisp and classic typeface suitable for both prose and poetry. It also has strong flavor notes of caramel, charcoal and cherry, with a smooth finish that pairs it well with both fish and fowl…wait, I’m getting carried away here.

The poem is part of a larger project entitled The Drift, which somewhat aimlessly uses as its model one of the first anthologies of great classical Chinese poetry, Poems of The Masters, originally compiled in the 13th century and consisting of some of the great poems written in the 7th-13th centuries. This project will pair several hundred short poems,  based on regulated verse of the T’ang and Sung dynasties (which I have been posting on this blog since December of last year) with prose poems dealing with the same subject matter in a very different form.

There are quite a few wrinkles to this large project’s design, and more on said wrinkles much later, but all this is to say that when designing the broadside for “Drop Everything” Emily and I took into account the influence of classic Chinese poetry on the overall project– and also the method of transmission of those poems back over a thousand years ago. This includes printing the poem on a high quality bamboo paper stock in a strong vertical format (probably around 12 x 18 inches).

We haven’t yet decided on the number of this edition, or the price. It will most likely be offered as part of a series of broadsides to be released over the coming year. Still working out all those details, but incredibly happy to be working with Emily again (St Brigid Press printed the haiku coaster set available on the Books page) and excited to share with you images of the first proofs as they come off the press later this week…

You can find the poem “Drop Everything” on the Brand New Stuff page above.

More soon…

The Future

Like a terminal bud, the future sits in dark resilience, weathering the present’s timeless winter, wrapped in the protection of tight embryonic leaves of the past, of memories packed in but not yet ripened which will unfold at the right moment, under accidental warmth or the persistent downpour of circumstance, they will unfold, crowning and surrounding that which has not yet happened in sudden green gestures growing as they are revisited and directing the warm rain of the mind to the center where the fruit is forming. All the colors of the spring are memories blooming and feeding the future. All this time we have misunderstood the past, blamed it for distracting us from the task at hand; it was never like that. Wasn’t the task at hand always shoveling snow? Wasn’t it always salting the walkway?  Still we could not escape the present as we cannot escape a blizzard, the white-out of no context, the compulsion to turn one’s head from a cold wind. And when the future is finally ready, when the memories darken slightly in their turn across the sun’s ninety faces then the present will come, not knowing why it is coming, as bee or bird or squirrel come but do not know why, and take the future on the only journey it cannot travel itself. And if we wonder why we lose the memories it is because their work is done, they can finally loosen and twist away in the tug of the present. Already we will have forgotten what it was specifically that was done, the hand on your back lightly, the walk through the teeming streets,  but it will have served the reason for that touch, its continuing love, it can be forgotten for the love is still waiting, just ahead, it has never left you, it has always come back, even as the ground beneath you stiffens with frost, it is what makes you see beauty in the momentary lapse of attention to the present which we mistake for the present moment, beautiful even in the coldest full moon of the year bright on the metal roof of an empty house.

Drop Everything

Drop Everything

An old white ash in the backyard of the abandoned house next door. It was a dry, cold, still day, weeks after the maple and walnut trees around it had lost their leaves but this tree still had hundreds which had not fallen, very large leaves bigger than your hands. I was out in my backyard with the dogs. With no cause such as a gust of wind and in the space of a few minutes, almost all the leaves of the ash tree fell to the ground. They were dry but heavy and dropped straight down like a bundle of mail or a suitcase, without the ceremony of wafting or drifting. As if the tree had just gotten the worst news in the world, perhaps that another tree it loved on the other side of the world had died, and dropped everything about itself onto its home’s floor that morning upon receiving the news. It was over in a hundred seconds. If I had not seen it I never would have noticed, or I would have noticed and not believed that something so sudden could have happened and thought simply Oh the ash tree finally lost its leaves while I was not paying attention. Not as if everything in the world had suddenly changed for it. In fact afterwards the tree essentially looked the same to me. I stood there a bit stunned  watching those leaves fall,  and then awhile longer watching the tree, still standing there, anticipating that it might shrug or even uproot itself and go marching off toward the mountain, but it looked unchanged to the rest of the world just as perhaps the rest of the world was now entirely foreign to it, and I remained there as rooted as anything in the yard, realizing how little we witness any of these moments in others, feeling that somewhere around the corner is a phone call or a letter or a conversation where we’ll each know exactly what it’s like to be that tree, and have the same chance to stay, rooted in what we most deeply are, unchanged to others even while dropping everything.