By g emil reutter
Thaddeus Rutkowski is a man of small town America and a man of urban America. His poetry is written from the lens of his unique experience in both places at a time in the nation when small town and urban are in constant conflict. Yet, Rutkowski is not in conflict as he equally embraces both in his poetry in honest, forthright and at times humorous verse. He is an observer of life and these poems are the embodiment of what he has witnessed and thus an immediate connection with the reader and we are better for it.
He tells us in the poem, One-Tenth:
A Chinese philosopher said:
“Live to an old age.
There remains three-tenths that cannot be known”
I am on my way to old age, I am still studying,
And I don’t know one-tenth of what can be known.
I inch ahead, adding, bit by bit, to what I know.
But as I add, other things slip away.
I hope I add more that I lose.
Who knows? Maybe the sand in the hourglass
is running out faster than I’m replenishing it.
There isn’t much I can do about that,
except to turn the hourglass over.
He writes of riding his bicycle in Manhattan and of people yelling for him to move out of the way of their cars, tells of us his daughter’s marathon run, of his wife and him dumpster diving for candles from a corner shop. He turns to the rural in the poem, Farmers and Dove, of the harvest of corn by the farmer, husking as they travel in a small pickup and of the Dove on the wires above, cooing, For those of us who know what’s missing, the sounds of the bird remind us of what’s lost. And again in the poem, Claw Marks:
The trunk of this beech tree
is scored with dents just far enough apart
to indicate fingernails, or an animal’s nails,
or the claws of a bear, hungry for beechnuts.
The small, oily nuts, covered in burrs,
will help sustain a bear through winter.
The nuts are high up in the tree,
but a bear is a good climber,
with claws that can pierce the bark
on a smooth, iron –like trunk.
The bear is long gone. It’s winter now,
too cold for bears and other hibernators.
The bear’s marks remain in the bark,
at just the right distance to mark its reach.
Rutkowski the observer is clearly evident in the details in this poem, description of the iron-like trunk, oily nuts covered in burrs, the trunk scored with dents just far enough apart. Although the bear is gone, the reader can still see the bear in the tree.
He returns to the urban in the poem Noise to my Ears. Of the street musicians who populate subway concourses, of how he admires their talent, that they make him happy and of the posers who randomly blow in horns or beat on drums until he feels trapped in the unpleasant. In the poem, Hit Again, Rutkowski writes of his adventures riding a bike in Manhattan and the indifference of a cab driver who he has encountered:
I drift to the left to avoid a biker
coming the wrong way, toward me,
and a car hits me with its side door.
It’s a yellow cab that was speeding past
as I drifted toward it.
I hear and feel the impact against my arm,
And I think, “”Not again”
It is the second time
I’ve been hit in a couple of weeks;
the first was on my other arm.
But I can use the arm that was hit now.
I can lift and move it. I feel nothing
beyond a dull pain in the elbow.
I see the cab has stopped.
Maybe the driver heard the impact, too,
and wants to see if I am all right,
or maybe he has stopped for a traffic light.
Tricks of Light is an eclectic collection of poems about family, about life in the city and life in small towns. It is a collection of poems about the forgotten, the found, of birds and fisherman, of loss and aging and of nature.
Yellow-Green Hills of Pennsylvania
The mountains—the hills really—
are yellow-green, in transition
from bare trees to leafed trees.
I don’t know how long this color will last.
If I were fishing now,
I could walk to the water and cast my line
without getting it tangled in leaves.
If I want to see something distant, a house, say,
I can see it through the trees.
These yellow-green constellations
are only buds, and when the sun hits,
the whole mountain lights up.
That is, assuming the mountain—a hill, really—
is not covered in fog.