Friday, February 28, 1997

Journal entry Tomaž Šalamun, Dana Gioia

Yesterday I lost track of time, having three hours to kill, and I killed them very well indeed, 3 and a 1/2 hours worth, as a matter of fact. Today, I made up for all that lost time, and arrive a half an hour early to teach poetry at the Higham Family School. Oh well. I spent some time chatting with Michael Ellis, and reading my mail, a nice thank you letter from the Montana Writers’ Voice, Corby Skinner. I too need to send thank you letters to my hosts and teachers. I also received a letter from Ljubljana. A poet writes, Spring arrives despite the wars in Bosnia. Kajvic hopes the war is finally over, says Tomaž Šalamun who has been a cultural attaché in Washington DC, for four years, thankfully well out of harm’s way. My neighbor George was quite excited about my letter from Tomaž, but I’ve been receiving letters from famous poets in Brussels, Holland and elsewhere due to my massive Uniting The World mailing in December. Iren Kiss sends poems and says she has a job lead for me in Budapest, now that would be wild. Charles McGeehan who writes from Amsterdam that Joke is booking American poets for this year‘s Rotterdam Poetry Festival, and to send my stuff in as soon as possible. Dana Gioia, a near neighbor,just moved to Faught Road from the East Coast. We gather to welcome him. At the SRJC noon lecture I picked up an argument I began with him six years ago when he wrote Does Poetry Matter? He recognizes my name when I introduce myself, from an anthology, and he says Atomic Ghost? Yes. I said, but I haven’t submitted much of anything lately. I guess I should be flattered that he recognized me at all.

Saturday, February 22, 1997


We flew out over Red Lodge,
I recognized it from the air.
Glacier Peak, rimed in a cloud cap,
is lit by the rising moon.
The river, an ice lake, like purblind eyes.
the distant lights of Bozeman disappear.
Massive Yellowstone Lake, also frozen.
Another lake, huge mountains and deep snow.
As we approach Salt Lake, I can see ski runs.
Maybe it’s Idaho. I’m a astounded by the variations
in geography of the Rockies.
Long northeasterly ridges in the coal bearing regions.
Rock creek, visible from the air.
A granite peak, snow sculpted and feminine,
the orderly uplift near Yellowstone Park,
The toothed splay, the fractures and block faulting
giving way to the north south ranges.
It’s as if time itself is frozen.

Friday, February 21, 1997


Circling the rimrock of Billings at sunset
under a full moon, silvered graffiti of lakes, 
an ice jam builds in the narrows,
myriad tongues form multiple channels
white against the numerous dark islands.
We head towards Bear Tooth and the Pryor mountains.
Houses define the edge of space like fireflies.

The end of a residency, Laurel, Montana, teaching journal

The end of a residency, Laurel, Montana
21 February, 1997.

The end of a residency, my host family, Sharon and Bob Nose brought me to the airport. The two weeks flew by fast—we had an assembly Friday and I was interviewed by the Laurel newspaper. The reporter was very sympathetic, also dyslexic, so I wasn’t worried about trying to convince her of the value of poetry. I hope I don’t regret it.

I’ve had an action-packed two weeks! The kids were revising their poems all day long, and they were shouting their poems in the hallways and hamming it up. Many students read at my reading at Writer’s Voices , at Barnes & Noble in Billings—they were pros. Most of the kids froze up, and read traditionally, but I could see all the coaching had paid off. They were trying to remember all my instructions. Look up, get audience attention, enunciate, volume modulation, tone, pace, etc.

We were supposed to have two kids per class read, that’s 20 kids – it was more like 45 kids. Hannah was last, reciting the poem to her mother called She. It brought tears to my eyes. It brought down the house. The fifth graders mobbed the reporter, telling her what poetry is. I also had to prepare three packets of poems for the Montana Arts Council, the school, and a selection for the newspaper. It was a surprise to see Lee Evans, a friend from Napa, she’s going to college in Missoula to study with Bill Knott, and the Richard Hugo school of poetry.

I had a wonderful time teaching, but I’m also looking forward to going home. I didn’t get to Little Big Horn, or Greasy Grass, but I could see the sweetgrass in the distance, shining like an inland sea. Nor did I get a chance to ski but now I have poetry family in this part of the world. Teaching in another place irrevocably changes you.

Thursday, February 20, 1997

Getting the goose

One year spring came early, and Bob Kappell found a confused Canada goose on the perimeter of the playground chasing the students. Since he had a farm, he took the goose home in the truck. Well, the goose noticed the fence posts were whizzing by, and he wasn’t having to work his wings, and so he began to flap them in the truck cab. A goose’s wingspan is enormous. Bob had to pin him down in order to drive home. The goose wasn’t too happy about that and hissed at Bob all the way home. He let the goose go with his other geese, it took off, but the weather had warmed up, leaving wasn’t so much an urgency for the snowbird. A few days later in the local paper, there was an ad for a missing goose. Please help Freddy come home. Still missing, but was last seen on 9th Street two weeks ago. Please call Mrs. Irma Richardson. Someone photocopied the ad, placing it on the teachers room fridge, with a note saying, Leave it to Kappell to get someone’s goose.

Friday, February 14, 1997

Whispering corn

When she was a girl, Helena‘s brother always carried her on his back to the cornfield before dinner. He’d pick the ears of corn and hand them to her. Then years later, he had a stroke. He went to answer the phone, and found that he had lost his speech. He found those ears of corn whispering, some 50 years later, whispering the words she never said, and he could only mutely acknowledge her, nodding his head, as her poem whispered in his ear.

Tuesday, February 11, 1997


The snow is falling like slow rice
from a wedding of sky and ground,
midwinter where variations of white
ride the Montana landscape
with inescapable rhythms.
The hard leaf hangs like a death sentence
when fall promised the salvation of darkness
that would find the oak and maple wanting.
The last of the summer wishes
are encased in ice like jewels
for my feet to find one morning early
as I step from the warmth of the van 
into the truth of ice.

Laurel, Montana. 11 February, 1997

Sunday, February 9, 1997

Flying over the Sierra Nevada Range

The dark thoughts of the Feather River, hampered by a dam, turn white rimed at the edges. We climb the Sierras, fresh snow that teaches the rocks to be beautiful. Tahoe, the crown jewel, is flowing over its banks. It peeks out from under a cloud bank like a mirage, the beauty of the Sierras is hidden from the eye of God. Paralleling Interstate 80, the old pony express trail can be seen from 30,000 feet.

All those Nevada sinkholes filled with water for the first time in memory. A Seals and Croft song, Even the desert will bloom, comes to mind. Ancient shorelines from a crazy paisley pattern. What lake beds that have become as desolate as the Aral Sea, are reminded of the continuity of their ancient shores, yet this is but a drop in the bucket, for there was once a much larger bodies of water even than this watershed becoming visible in the desert.

The creek is most economical in the mountains, it heads south, interrupted by a small zigzag, but when it hits the plains, it oxbows back and forth on itself, so severely, Siamese-twinned islands appear. But the creek goes nowhere, it dries up in the desert, and sinks down into the water table to become part of of the underground stream. No water in this desert will ever reach the ocean in my lifetime. Evaporation will only take it further east to the Great Salt Lake.

The great flood

Though spring has struck in the Bay Area with acacia and narcissus clogging the senses, I am flying back into winter on the other side of the Rockies. We fly over Alameda, Carquinez Straits, the upper bay is latte-colored from the floods. Standing water turns fields into giant mirrors for the sky’s vanity. The river channels are like worm castings, the broad expanse of water redefining the Peripheral Canal’s low shoulders— it’s like a sinewy lake, miles wide. I never expected to see the vestiges of the flood from the air, and so long after the fact. Brachial lungs of silt fanned out across green fields where burst levees gave up the burden, and guilt flooded the fields with remorse for a time when the rivers were unfettered by man.

Unequal pay

At the Oakland Airport, a man complains to a group how he’s losing $25 a day coming from Montana to teach an art class in San Francisco, while I am losing at least that much an hour to fly to Montana in order to teach kids art.

Saturday, February 8, 1997



The dog-eared tomcat 
is stealing cat food again.
He yowls at the moon.


All the poor drowned bees. 
Hives on low ground washed out to sea.
Who will pollinate the orchids come spring?