On April 11, 2017, Wesley Rothman and Ryan Wilson shared their poetry with university students, staff, and local guests to celebrate National Poetry Month at The Catholic University of America (CUA). The event was co-sponsored by the ALSCW and CUA’s English Graduate Organization (good-humoredly known as EGO), and guests were invited to arrive ready to participate: placed at the auditorium’s entrance was a sign-up sheet for the open-mic portion of the evening’s program. Rothman and Wilson, both doctoral candidates and English instructors at CUA, encouraged all of us—friends, students, and strangers alike—to sign up to recite a work of our own or that of a favorite poet.
In a battered desk in the feed room of my grandfather’s store,
I came across a knife
my father had made – high school, I’m guessing,
metal shop – a dagger with a bone handle,
blade cut from a metal file.
It looked ugly, dangerous.
“Put that back,” he told me
when I brought it into the store. He hardly glanced
at the two-edged blade, good only for murder.
I was young, obedient. I put it back
but have held it years in my memory,
just as he must’ve held it
in that desk drawer of rusted sockets and wrenches –
I lie on this crappy table to rise like dough,
but putting me in the oven won’t work;
here are four little corners so dark
that I light them up with my hands as I go,
and I gnaw them like I had a dog’s fangs,
and I haven’t since been able to wash it down,
and I am here by I-know-whose petition,
but I’ve silenced the church bells’ clangs.
My body often rumbles and lets out such cries
that one day I get a response from a female dove,
thinking I was a male of her species—
The spell of desire fails,1
…. so let me pray instead
that Khizr the Immortal
…. is not dead.
Do not wander absurdly lost
…. in the heat-mirage of being.
Now you have depths and skies
…. inside your head.
The spectacle of union is my fantasy,
…. but what fancy
will polish the dirty mirror
…. where anticipation is read?
Each single atom of the lover
…. worships the sun.
I’m gone like dust on the wind,
…. but my lust for her sun has not sped.
My thin heart cannot eat this grief
…. of mine enough.
My sorrow is full because there is not
…. rose wine enough.
I am ashamed to tell
…. the Cupbearer
I will drink even sediment
…. if it is fine enough.
There is no arrow in the bow,
…. no hunter in ambush.
In the corner of this cage,
…. I can recline enough.
How I revere abstinence!
…. Am I a hypocrite?
I half thirst for a reward
…. for being dry enough.
THE IF BORDERLANDS: COLLECTED POEMS
by Elise Partridge
(NYRB Press, 2017, 272 pp. $16).
Hymns and Qualms: New and Selected Poems and Translations
By Peter Cole
(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017, 336 pp, $30)
By Al Basile
(Antrium House, 2017, 147pp, $23)
The career path for poets has become a rut. You get your MFA, maybe another degree or two, and you enter the academic job market, chanting timor mortis every step of the way. It is often refreshing, then, to consider the lives and careers of poets who, for better or worse, cut their own peculiar paths. Al Basile is such a poet. One doesn’t speak of his career, but careers. His first collection, titled A Lit House: 100 Poems 1975-2011, at once announced itself as a debut and a retrospective. While writing the poems collected in that book, Basile was pursuing two other careers: one as a private school teacher, the other as a cornet player and blues singer. The latter career, still going strong, has amassed 14 solo recordings and numerous nominations for Blues Music Awards by The Blues Foundation. Both paths, as musician and teacher, as well as a stint in the Army, come together in his poems.