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Six Poems
And An Essay About Them

Stan Galloway
Bridgewater, Virginia

Honolulu Elevator

Alone together,
going up too fast,
you looked into my eyes
and leaned toward me.

Our lips met
at the center of the universe,
the walls blurring
to indistinction,
while a nova
birthed a galaxy
inside me.

Morning Coffee

"There is no morning
Till this cup's empty" --
I had read the cup a hundred times
but I never understood it
before the morning that I saw you
standing naked in the kitchen
staring where the rising sun
lit the dust above the counter.
Your phone was tweedling for attention
and the odor of forgotten bacon
was threatening to trip the smoke alarm,
but you stood resolute, a lighthouse
oblivious to any storm,
sipping life
from monochrome
to color.

Kentucky Blue

The guitarman sets out a heartbeat,
The mandolin trips out a mournful quaver
like a hermit thrush whose wing has never mended
while the graybeard tells a tale
of days when pain was raw
and life
was slow.
No matter what the fiddler and the bass attempt,
the wistful woe cannot be overcome
because a heart that's locked in yesterday
will not be set aflight
its will.

Locking the Bathroom Door

I'd never seen beyond the smooth green plaster,
comfortable and solid at the margin of the asphalt,
a place I'd stopped willingly and

But when the plaster cracked
at the sound of that lock,
showing concrete blocks
gray and grainy
block on
block on
hidden behind the green,
my view was clearly changed,
no longer comfortable
solid in its negativity:
the wall of blocks between us I had failed to see
for my attention to the paint and
the asphalt's cobbled edge and
ragweed I had thought were roses --
old old wall disguised so long,
revealed as jagged smoke
from a fire surged through a house
gutted in the night.

I'm behind the smoking wall that remains,
the wall between you and me --
and no water running on my side.

Crossing the Ohio

for Clarence

Through the low sun glare
across the iron bridge
the freight train
leaves 1952
joining states
and time

Swifts dart in pairs
at dusk
bridging banks
skimming water
celebrating heat
dizzy from delight

Tugboats push flatbeds
through rippled streetlight pillars
real but insubstantial
cargo of elsewhere

Holding furtively
to a newly felled maple
along the leafy portion
three black men
in a black night
make last trackless steps
to Indiana

Miss Lucille

(Lucille Clifton 1936-2010)

Miss Lucille
has done much for us.

She fought dragons
and won.

She sailed the world, and time,
without leaving home
and brought the pictures back to prove it.

She cried out in a woman's tongue.
She cried out in a man's tongue.
She cried out in a human tongue.
She cried out in an inhuman tongue.

She taught a woman to love the body that God gave to her,
no matter its shape, or size, or color.
She taught a man to respect the women God put on Earth,
no matter her shape, or size, or color.
She taught all of us
that God made shape, and size, and color.

She showed us that Lucifer has his story, too,
and that we all live
in the consequences of our choices --
and in the consequences of others' choices.

She lived with absences,
and showed us that absences
have a presence, too.

And in her absent presence,
I must say, I
miss Lucille.

Stan Galloway, nominated Best of the Net in 2011 and 2012, teaches English at Bridgewater College in Virginia. His chapbook Abraham is available from Sierra Delta Press. His full collection Just Married is forthcoming from unbound CONTENT. He has also written a book of literary criticism, The Teenage Tarzan (McFarland, 2010).

Link to Abraham

Writing poetry is a relatively new endeavor for me. That’s not entirely true, because I’ve been writing poetry since junior high school. What I mean is sharing my poetry is pretty much corralled into the last 3 years. Before that I wrote between other endeavors: classroom notes, academic presentations, even a pretty extensive book of literary analysis. But my poetry sat in a drawer or a box or a computer file as a final resting place. In 2009, while my book was going through the channels at the publishers, I took a seminar on the poetry of Lucille Clifton at the Furious Flower Poetry Center. It was meant to be a mental change of pace for me. Instead it was a midcourse correction. Reading her work, I realized I had things to say, and parts of my life were vital. During lunch break I wrote a poem based on the morning speaker. It was as if all the reading, both from the seminar and from years of teaching, settled into a foundation of expression. It was during that week of immersion that I gained the confidence to not only write seriously but market that writing as well.

When Lucille Clifton passed away, less than a year later, I felt that loss both personally and professionally. Her images were grafted into me, in a way, and I was motivated to speak for her, and for me. I wrote an elegy for her, “Miss Lucille,” honoring and lamenting her passing, as a way to start myself down a path that she would have understood and approved.

It would be wrong to say, though, that I write because I can. There are many things I can do, that I don’t. Rather, there is a satisfaction in creating that comes from very few activities. Inside each of us, the image of God, the creator, tries to get out. We all find ways to create, and for me words are the paint I use, the clay, the nuts and bolts. The teacher in me wants to write things that will make a difference, make people say, “Oh, I never thought of it that way, but it’s true.” There can be a kind of intimacy created in a poem, because a poem reveals something of the writer, sometimes overtly, more often covertly or even subconsciously. And sharing those secrets draws the heart of the reader closer to the writer than most other kinds of art and even other kinds of writing.

So, I share my life, my dreams, my hopes in poems. Sometimes a poem is an observation about choices. In “Kentucky Blue,” for example, I hope that the reader says, “I know a person like that, despondent because he won’t let go.” I believe there are many people like that. The art of the poem is that vertically the line lengths look like a heart monitor; that is, if the poem is turned sideways it looks like the measure of a heartbeat. This is a poem about a heart.

Sometimes a poem will come from an experience or a conversation. “Crossing the Ohio” is one such poem. It was sparked in a conversation on a hotel balcony in Louisville, looking out across the Ohio River. My friend said something about the hope inherent in the view. That started me thinking about different ways one might “look” across that river. I tried to lay those thoughts on top of each other, realizing that chronology was insufficient in conveying the complexity of the multiple views. So I tried to express the fact that the mind does not move in straight minutes of time. The numbers indicate a chronology that differs from the presentation which jumps like the human mind to various temporal points.

Another motivation in writing is trying to say one thing in terms of another image. Poetry does that better than any other art. “Locking the Bathroom Door” is a poem that avoids its own subject by focusing on images that “feel” like the undisclosed subject. The wall and the fire are metaphoric for the frustration and loss lying behind the image.

I’m also a romantic at heart. I like love and affection. Many of the poems I write try to show how love and affection are shown in little ways, a simple kiss in “Honolulu Elevator,” for example, or the simple presence of another, shown in “Morning Coffee.” Love takes so many different forms that it is often overlooked. I want to find it in the most ordinary of circumstances. I write out of that desire, too.

To name all the motivations in my writing would be impossible. But whichever motivation is at hand, I end up writing a poem every week at least. It doesn’t have to be written on my to-do list; it will happen. (Now, submitting those poems is another matter.) I think, like most writers, I write because it comes out of me without coaxing, and it addresses my need to be heard, to be truthful and relevant, and potentially to be loved.

Published in In Motion Magazine October 20, 2012

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