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Poetry Feature: The Work of Terry Lucas

04 May 2017, Posted by Editor in Poetry

SIX POEMS BY TERRY LUCAS

Psalm ’66

O, ’66 Plymouth Valiant! In you will I put my trust.

Your chromed, Barracuda hood ornament leads me;

 

your tuck ’n roll bucket seats comfort me;

your 400-horsepower Hemi engine will save me

 

from being shamed by a Biscayne dragging Main Street.

Though I double-clutch down Red Mountain, I will not fear,

 

for your disc brakes and your Hurst shifter are with me;

your tubular suspension protects me; your roll bar

 

watches over me—a halo of Chrome-Moly black steel.

Your aluminum wheels and posi-traction rear-end

 

will carry me from the mid-west to New Mexico;

even though I cross-country to San Francisco,

 

I have no need for a motor hotel. In truck-stop

parking lots your double-bass exhaust is hushed,

 

while a waitress prepares a table before me of pork chops,

buttered toast, hash browns, and fried eggs sunny side up.

 

You anoint my hands with grease. The sweet smell

of gasoline will follow me all the days of my life,

 

and I will dwell in the pleasures of your back seat forever.

 

 

 

When God Moved Out

At first, He visited the children every weekend;

they’d sleep over in the small chapel

He’d taken on the corner across from

The Divine Hand Palm Reading Parlor.

 

He bathed them in the baptistery beneath

a mural of olive trees on the banks of the River

Jordan, calling down from His study to stop

splashing while He was answering

 

evening prayers. Later, He’d descend,

tell bedtime stories replete with apocryphal

animal friends, tuck them into sheepskin

pallets He’d made to cushion the whorled-grained pews.

 

On the Sabbath, of course, God would rest

at the beach in a chaise lounge, call up dolphins

as playmates, periodically check in

with the new girlfriend on His cell phone.

 

Sundays, He’d take them to the movies, slip

into a vacant theater, create something

new on the big screen, or maybe show reruns

of the great flood, the dinosaur extinction.

 

After the divorce was final, He came around

only once or twice a year—Christmas, Easter—

but He was always there in spirit: the weddings,

christenings, funerals—lurking in the corners

of His children’s dreams of eternal punishment.

 

 

Morning Ritual

In my bathroom mirror I inventory spots

and lumps on my mostly denuded skin,

assess any change in color, size. Satisfied

 

I might live out the day, I lather up and glide

a triple-bladed razor down my face, excising

any trace of hirsute lineage. I contemplate body hair

 

loss, a million years, possible causes—

did our ancestors suffer from heat stroke

or irritating parasites, burrowed deep in fur,

 

carrying algid malaria or Lyme disease

during migration from the African Savanna?

I shower and dress, begin my commute,

 

glance at my watch, measure the chances

something dire will happen today. Mitochondria

are already at work in the corner office

 

of my brain, coordinating today’s schedule

filled with meetings to decide which cells live,

which die, what new diseases will reveal themselves

 

before our yellow star turns red and swells to Mars’ orbit,

when blood and bumps alike will boil away—or

perhaps before this evening’s pour of Beaujolais.

 

 

Trick Rider

Oh, everything’s true

            at different times.

                                                —Stephen Dunn

 

I’m reading we delude ourselves into thinking

we can do two things at once—how we move,

 

instead, merely back and forth between them

very quickly. I glance at forty days

 

of dirty laundry, then back at my desk

lamp’s glare on the page, the shadow it makes

 

of itself, how it has collected gray

moths the size, with wings tucked, of snags of thread

 

that cling to the shade between pleats, until

the day its bulb burns out and they are free

 

to fly into their natural habitat

of death. But this morning the copper wire’s

 

still glowing through the frosted bulb, and there’s

a moth trapped like a bookmark in the spine

 

of a book on the table, pages splayed

open like dove feathers, and dust-smeared with

 

chitin scales. I tweeze its wings between my

fingertips, expecting a vibration,

 

a velvet pulse against my skin—nothing

except inanimate existence. I

 

walk to the sink, turn on the faucet, watch

the vortex disappear in the trap. Back

 

at my desk I open up Stephen Dunn,

bound back and forth between his lines and

 

mine. I am a trick rider leaping from

his plumed pony to my nag, practicing

 

the shoulder stand, the one-foot drag.


 

The Thing Itself (A Cento)

You know how hard it is sometimes just to walk on the streets

Downtown, how everything enters you—

Iron straight from the forge, fierce with tiny agitation,

Rain ringing like teeth in the beggar’s tin,

Like a sinking ship drowning its lights,

Chalk beds       trilobites          giant ferns

Whirr. The invisible sponsored again by white

Isotopes, pockets, dragonflies, bread:

There is no dictionary for this gathering.

You might think you were Noah

Failing to arrange a taxonomy of allergic substances.

Our lives are like birds’ lives, flying around, blown away,

Or some far horn repeating over water—

Do we simply join our arcs

The way a seed is pressed into a hole?

Don’t ask me any questions, I’ve seen how things

Blink-quick, or quicker still,

Tracked under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

Follow the light, the twist and drop of blackbirds from the tree.

 

 

 

To the Fog

And then you wake up one morning to the fog

surrounding your house like a heaven,

like the first time you drank a whole bottle

of white wine alone. You get dressed for your walk

down the path that you walk on each day.

You look toward the horizon, the shouting

sun now more like moon’s soft song. One muted tone

behind sky’s veil. You notice the lichen-

covered stones greeting each step, the geometry

of downed limbs scratching at low tide,

the snowy egret you surprise, plumed head

turned on its side, sweeping the mudflats, improvising

a way to catch breakfast in suffused light—

all of this and more, normally hidden in plain sight.

But an orchestra’s warming up behind the curtain:

commuters leaning on shrill horns, distant

sirens rising, the engines of this world

revving up their clear intent to perform

something short of a miracle. O fog

of morning, hover in the hollows of this day,

remain in its low places, to rise up again

when we need not more, but less.

 

 

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to the following journals, where some of these poems first appeared, in slightly different versions:

Clementine Unbound: “Psalm ’66”

MiPoesias: “When God Moved Out”

PoetsArtists Magazine: “The Thing Itself”

I am grateful to Ron Starbuck, CEO of Saint Julian Press (http://www.saintjulianpress.com/index.html), who first published “To the Fog” in Dharma Rain (2016), which also includes “Psalm ’66,” “When God Moved Out,” and “The Thing Itself.”

I am grateful to the following poets for their contributions to “The Thing Itself,” where each line, including the title, is borrowed from a different poem:

The Thing Itself is taken from the title of the poem “Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself” by Wallace Stevens.

You know how hard it is sometimes just to walk in the streets / Downtown, how everything enters you is line 1 from “Quantum,” written by Kim Addonizio, published in Tell Me, BOA Editions, Ltd.: Rochester, 2000.

Iron straight from the forge, fierce with tiny agitation is line 1 from “Life Near 310 Kelvin,” written by Greg Keith, published in Life near 310 Kelvin, SLG Books: Berkeley, Hong Kong, 1998.

Rain ringing like teeth in the beggar’s tin is line 7 from “The City In Which I Love You,” written by Li-Young Lee, published in The City in Which I Love You, BOA Editions, Ltd.: Brockport, New York, 1990.

Like a sinking ship drowning its lights is line 57 from Altazor, “Canto I, excerpt,” written by Vincente Huidobro, published in Poems for the Millennium, Vol. I, University of California Press: London, 1995.

Chalk beds    trilobites    giant ferns is line 4 from “The Fetus’ Curious Monologue,” written by Amy Gerstler, published in Ghost Girl, Penguin Books: London, 2004.

Whirr. The invisible sponsored again by white is line 1 from “In The Hotel,” written by Jorie Graham, published in The Best American Poetry 1994, Simon & Schuster: New York, 1994.

Isotopes, pockets, dragonflies, bread is lines 5 from “Crycek: The Confessions,” written by Susan Wheeler, published in The American Poetry Review, Vol. 28/No. 2: March/April 1999.

There is no Dictionary for this gathering is line 93 from “Draft 55: Quiptych,” written by Rachelle Blau DuPlessis, published in The Best American Poetry 2004, Scribner: New York, 2004.

You might think you were Noah is line 23 from “Nazareth By Rail,” written by Matthew Niblock, published in Scream When You Burn, Incommunicado Press: San Diego, 1998.

Failing to arrange a taxonomy of allergic substances is line 21 from “Flower,” written by Chris Gordon, published in Scream When You Burn, Incommunicado Press: San Diego, 1998.

Our lives are like birds’ lives, flying around blown away is line 31 from “Drone and Ostinato,” written by Charles Wright, published in Negative Blue, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, 2000.

Or some far horn repeating over water is line 9 from “Nostalgia of the Lakefronts,” written by Donald Justice, published in The Best of the Best American Poetry, Scribner: New York, 1998.

Do we simply join our arcs is from line 55 from “Midway,” written by Gabriel Spera, published in The Standing Wave, Perennial (HarperCollins): New York, 2003.

The way a seed is pressed into a hole is line 11 from “Prayer,” written by Kim Addonizio, published in Tell Me, BOA Editions, Ltd.: Rochester, 2000.

Don’t ask me any questions, I’ve seen how things is line 18 from “1910 (Intermezzo),” written by Frederico Garcia Lorca, published in Poet in New York, Noonday Press: New York, 1994.

Blink-quick or quicker still is from line 2 of “Thinking,” written by Matt Rader, published in Grain Magazine, Vol. 31, No. 2: Saskatchewan, 2003.

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn is line 61 of “The Waste Land,” I. The Burial of the Dead, written by T.S. Elliot.

Follow the light, the twist and drop of blackbirds from the tree is line 9 from “So Here by my Harangue to God,” written by Jim Nason, published by Grain Magazine, Vol. 30, No. 3: Saskatchewan, 2003.

  

 


About the poet:

Terry Lucas is the author of two full-length poetry collections: In This Room (CW Books, January 2016) and Dharma Rain (Saint Julian Press, October 2016). In addition, he is the author of two award-winning poetry chapbooks: Altar Call, selected by the 2013 San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival for the anthology, Diesel; and If They Have Ears to Hear, winner of the 2012 Copperdome Chapbook contest (Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2013). He has received numerous other writing awards, including the 2014 Crab Orchard Review Feature Award in Poetry, the fifth annual Littoral Press Poetry Prize, and six Pushcart Prize nominations.

Terry’s poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in dozens of national literary journals, including Best New Poets 2012, Green Mountains Review, Great River Review, PoetryFlash, and South 85 Journal. He has taught in the Chicago public school system as a Master Poet in the Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center’s Writing Center, and is a guest lecturer for the Dominican University Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing. Terry is a 2008 MFA graduate of New England College, having studied under Gerald Stern, Maxine Kumin, Alicia Ostriker and Michael Waters. He is the former Co-Executive Editor of Trio House Press, now serving as an Assistant Editor in order to devote more time to his own writing, as well as to his poetry consulting business. More about Terry and his work can be found at www.terrylucas.com.

Art Credit:
“Still Life with Books” by Jan Lievens (1630)- www.rijksmuseum.nl : Home : Info, Public Domain,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34313908

Photo by Brian Busch

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