Persimmon Tree and Windfall

Persimmon Tree

Remember earlier this year when I spent 100 days sending out my work?

Here are two of the results of that blitz, both of which hit my in-box or mailbox this week.

The first is a creative nonfiction essay—“About a Marriage, from A to Zed”—in the superlative Persimmon Tree: an On-line Magazine of the Arts by Women over Sixty. Click HERE to read my essay. The entire on-line issue is free (donations welcome).

“About a Marriage” was featured in the promotional email, with this thumbnail review:

This inventive and constantly intriguing essay does just what the title says. But Bethany Reid’s alphabet is like no other. The referent for each new letter is so unexpected that, by the time she has brought us all the way from A (for anorexia), stopping briefly at F (for Fight or Flight), and S (for Spaghetti, of course), nothing that Z could possibly stand for will surprise us. Or maybe it still can.

As a bonus, when I visited the page, I found comments from three complete strangers. (I guess I can stop saying that only my friends read what I write.)

The Passing of Windfall

The other publication is a print one, and a long-time favorite of mine, Windfall: A Journal of Poetry and Place. It was with genuine sadness that I learned the next issue will be Windfall’s last. “We have never broken even on any issue in twenty years,” the editors admit in their foreword. “Now the costs have risen above our capacity to absorb them.” All I can say is, this is a crying shame.

My subscription ran out on this issue, so I’ll be sending $7 to get the last issue. I hope you’ll consider joining me, and maybe purchasing Fall 2021 or other back-issues as well.

Fall 2021, well worth the cost, features poems from 27 northwest writers–including Christopher Howell, Penelope Scambly Schott, Donna Mendelson, and Carlos Reyes. It ends, as does every issue of Windfall, with an essay about poetry and place, written by editors Bill Siverly and Michael McDowell. (All of the essays are available at their website.) The essay for this issue, “Monuments and Poetry of Place,” included several poems. Here’s one:

Standing beneath the Statue of Sacagawea in Washington Park during the Racial Justice Protests of 2020

“a woman with a party of men is a token of peace” —Captain William Clark, 1805

Bronze traveler with baby on your back,
twenty tons of Oregon copper were mined
to make you. You’re looking beyond me.
From where I stand you’re unreachable.

Across the world people are tumbling
statues, taking down old heroes (now pariahs)
and erecting new ones, renaming buildings,
mascots, boulevards, dreams.

Bird Woman, what do we do with you?
We aren’t sure how to say your name,
we don’t know when you were born or died,
but we know you, a chief’s daughter, were never paid.

What if the Hidatsa had not kidnapped
you and forced you into slavery?
What if your Hidatsa man hadn’t lost at gambling
and traded you to Charbonneau to pay the debt?

Young native sold to white man.
Small woman helping men.
Some might call you traitor.
Some might see you as victim.

You are the axis, pathfinder, key.
Without you there would have been
no horses, no foraging of forest food,
no otter robe, no shared language.

As a girl I played here years ago with my sisters.
On hot August evening we ate barbequed chicken

Washington Park statue of Sacajawea and her baby, from Wikipedia

on paper plates with sweet corn and coleslaw.
Barefoot, we ran circles around you.

Lemhi Shoshone woman, strong swimmer,
cooking camas, keeping peace,
when I walk alone in old forests
of ambiguous shapes, I almost see you.

—Christine Colasurdo

Click on this link to visit Windfall to purchase a copy. You’ll find a form to print out and mail in with your check (beautifully old-school).

What I’m Falling For

I opened the new issue of Passager (Issue 71, 2021 Poetry Contest) to find a Fall poem, and lost (or found) the next hour, reading poem after poem. It’s a wonderful issue, and I’m happy to recommend it—and not only because it includes a poem of mine.

This poem makes me think of fall, though I’m not sure that’s the season represented.

Sacred

The imprint of a perfect sphere
lies almost hidden in the bleached grasses
of this abandoned field. Each
year it seems to expand a little like a stone’s
splash in the weeds of still water.

Some call it Alien. Others the ring
around the ghost of a felled oak. Or merely
mycology, the way fungus arcs outward
from single spore. It’s the exactness

that entices. A galaxy laid flat. When
I step inside I feel the clockwise spin
and then how motion washes inward
and out again along invisible spokes. I

have never known such stillness
and radiance, abandoned like the pasture.
A necessary journey somewhere—or just here.

—Joanne M. Clarkson

Clarkson’s poem is a time-machine. Typing those words, I’m struck by how many poems are precisely that. But here it’s not just that the poem woos the past back but that the particular moment we’re invited to visit is one in which the poet steps into an enchanted circle and…goes…somewhere. Is it just that the poet has entered a “thin place,” where the past, present, and future all whirl together? In the fall of the year, it seems to me, we are especially susceptible to such places. Everything is changing. We can struggle to hang onto what we know, or we can, as someone wise once told me, “embrace the changing.”

So that’s what I’m tasking myself with. What are those slippery places in my own life where time has stopped rushing forward and held me in place to look? Or catapulted me backwards, “the clockwise spin / and then…”? When have I felt “such stillness /and radiance, abandoned…”?

 

The Autumn Equinox

Tomorrow — at 12:21 p.m., in my area at least — autumn begins. It seems an excellent time to write a fall poem. Here’s one that I’ve cribbed from the collection at https://www.poetryfoundation.org.

For the Chipmunk in My Yard

I think he knows I’m alive, having come down
The three steps of the back porch
And given me a good once over. All afternoon
He’s been moving back and forth,
Gathering odd bits of walnut shells and twigs,
While all about him the great fields tumble
To the blades of the thresher. He’s lucky
To be where he is, wild with all that happens.
He’s lucky he’s not one of the shadows
Living in the blond heart of the wheat.
This autumn when trees bolt, dark with the fires
Of starlight, he’ll curl among their roots,
Wanting nothing but the slow burn of matter
On which he fastens like a small, brown flame.

I am still reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter an essay each week or so — and I just came across “The Beast in the Book.” She got me thinking about animals and how we share the world with them, not very politely, and how rich children’s literature is with animals. As Le Guin puts it:

The general purpose of a myth is to tell us who we are — who we are as a people. Mythic narrative affirms our community and our responsibilities, and is told in the form of teaching-stories both to children and adults.

–Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin doesn’t find it at all curious that children learn to read by sounding out the words in “Peter Rabbit,” or that they weep over Black Beauty. She finds it a shame that as we grow older we lose our facility to identify with animals. I loved this paragraph, about T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone:

Merlyn undertakes Arthur’s education, which consists mostly of being turned into animals. Here we meet the great mythic theme of Transformation, which is a central act of shamanism, though Merlyn doesn’t make any fuss about it. The boy becomes a fish, a hawk, a snake, an owl, and a badger. He participates, at thirty years per minute, in the sentience of trees, and then, at two million years per second, in the sentience of stones. All these scenes of participation in nonhuman being are funny, vivid, startling, and wise.

–Ursula K. Le Guin

I think it’s that “sentience of trees” that really made that paragraph stick for me, as I’ve also been reading Peter  Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees

My challenge for you this week is to write an autumn poem about some living being in your backyard or near environs. Like Robert Gibb’s chipmunk, how does this creature, with its small flame of wildness, teach you to be alive?

https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/tamiasciurus-douglasii

I don’t have chipmunks in my backyard, but we do have the small brown Douglas squirrels and the invasive, bigger gray squirrels. We sometimes have possums and raccoons; more rarely we’ve sighted deer and coyotes. Always, there are the birds: flickers, juncos, towhees, Stellar’s jays, flocks of crows each dusk. Last week, on a late walk with my dog, Pabu, I watched a flock of geese pass over, honking. The other day, my husband saw what he swears was a merlin, which is as good a sign of the changing season as any.

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