GANSHOWAHANNA. That is the Lenape name for the Schuylkill, which means falling waters. “The sky is theirs: The hunter after the bear, the Thunderers and Horned Serpent of last night’s storm, and the souls on the long, white trail—rising.” (18)
SWARM. The wildlife was so abundant. “Pompous pheasants, the swans were absurdly full of themselves. Had you asked me, I would have called for an interregnum of birds.” (22)
TEMPTATION. “I was another country then. I was temptation. And what precisely lay to my west? What lay beyond my falls?” (23)
FOLLY. Over the years drownings occurred in the river. “Many years, a drowning. A body dashed into my white spit. Bones sunk down with the calculus of catfish and of beaver, with turtle shells and the bright gold ring that marks the unmade promise.” (39)
. SOUL How the death of Benjamin Franklin affected the river. “The difference between a man’s soul and a cumulus cloud is that the cloud rubs out of its own accord and a man’s soul never does. Yesterday, Benjamin Franklin died after a year of suffering, and his soul has already risen, its color the color of sun through leaf. There’s an eccentric quiver in the air, a strange disruption, and the idle talk along my banks is of him.” (43)
NAVIGATION. “I was a fist, a scourge, a seductress—pulling stones and sludge through their grinding gears, making sounds they couldn’t account for, flooding them out where veins were cut.” (54)
HAVEN. Some people as this one woman are attuned to the river. “She is keen to the hidden craving in all things: the yearning tucked inside the songs of birds, the unconfessed regrets of men, the permanent rage of an unfinished fire.” (55)
ASYLUM. Disabled seamen are comforted by the river. “He’ll smell more like smoke than good breeding, and his lips will be pale and chewed into; his nose will have been burnished by the sun. The songs will come out the barrel of his chest. His stories will be for nobody but me.” (62)
WASTE. The following sentence imitates a flood, with even a hint of rhyme to keep the flow. “Nothing would stay in its place; nothing was fixed. The bulbs of the trees, the piers, the docks, the locks, and the canal masters’ houses, the soft hats and vests of the masters, their dinner plates and tablecloths, the barges, the names of the barges, the Conshohocken Bridge and the Flat Rock Bridge, the keys that opened the doors to the mills, the mills, the equipment in the mills, the columns of smoke that puffed out of the mills.” (68)
RESPECTS. The river commemorates Abraham Lincoln’s death. “The bells had pealed so long they’d become the weather, and the horses that had passed—with riders in their saddles or carriages dragged behind them—had been keeping their heads low. The wharves had been blackened, and also the boats, and there were bolts of black unfurled from the windows in the buildings all up and down my banks. Above the dam, where spring had already set in, the bushes and the birds were somber. The machines, for the most part, had stopped—the ambush of noise from factories.” (70)
STEAM. A locomotive is described. “At this hour the night seems intoxicated, the tinted lanterns swinging in some late-shift tune and the men passing through the bilious smoke above the tracks—passing through and disappearing. They’ve left on the eyes of the locomotives. They’ve left them breathing there—each so much bigger than a bear, so much blacker than the panther whose footprints are sunk in deep beneath those tracks, whose eyes needed only the moon for ignition. I can no longer tell you where the owls have gone. I can’t explain what a night alone is.” (76) The reader begins to feel the burden put upon the river, that once pure flowing water.
ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS. Philadelphia had the first zoo in the country but at what cost. “The noise is killing—the hysterical chatter and proximate screams of animals slowly being robbed of their opinion. Last night lightning seared the underbelly of the sky and thunder moved in loud and fast. It would go from dark to a sick, pale green, then flame straight back to nothingness, and all I could think of were the cinnamon bears at the dancing poles, so far from wherever it was that they had come from. Suddenly I knew what is worse than having needs you cannot speak, and that is this: having no faith in being answered.” (78)
SUPPURATING. Historically by the nineteenth into the twentieth century the river is severely polluted. “It is the worst of you sloughed off into me—your refuse and oddments, your savage toxins and dross, your slicks that do not sink, your dirty yeast, your wrong-colored wools and the dyes that wronged them. How is it that I became the quickest route to your confession—the door you close to those parts of your self that you hope no one will see? Call me what you’ve made me, which is a grave. Plant me a tombstone.” (89)
ABIDING. Poetry can forcefully vivify the ugliness as well as the beauty around us. “You wouldn’t call it survival. All that time living with what became my own stench, my insufferable loneliness. All that time, forsaken. You turned your backs on me. You robbed me of my dignity and birdsong, of fat-fisted flowers and azalea springs. Mostly you robbed me of the idea of myself as a river, for what is a river but a conduit between spring and sea, a womb for underwater things, a chance of transcendence, and what did you make of me but a trough of shame, a festering disease you would not cure? So that even the moon avoided me and my stories went dry as a bone and I was too clotted to see.” (92)
LOVE. And yet in the twenty-first century there is hope. The return of the otter signifies the beginning of a return of wildlife to the river. “He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, with his dark pelt and his well-groomed ears, the sterling glimmer of his whiskers. He was audacious, bold, spectacularly witty, and when he looked at me he was looking into me, he was knowing my heart and all the places it has been to. He was not afraid of my complicated language, not afraid of my needs, not afraid of all that sinks or floats or ends with me. The bones in me, which are also seeds. The dust of distant life. The stories I carry, the color of my dreams, the weight of my confessions.” (108)
Beth Kephart is a published poet and prose writer; in this book FLOW she has finely balanced her skills. It must have taken much reading and research to immerse herself in the history of the Schuylkill River. By using many poetic devices, especially imagery, she has been able to magically don the persona of the river itself and bring it truly to life.
You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Flow-Times-Philadelphias-Schuylkill-River-ebook/dp/B00ECK9XF2
Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.
By Don Thompson
This is dark stuff. The opening poem of Joseph Zaccardi’s new collection, The Weight of Bodily Touches, seems to be offered as a warning so that the tender-hearted might proceed no farther. In “To Feast on the Flesh of Decay”, a farmer’s wife exhumes the bones of a miscarried baby to “suckle my loss” and then “eats the grave dust under her own nails”. Some readers of this review will no doubt stop right here.
But I wonder about the source of such darkness. Usually it’s a kind of posturing that intends to shock for its own sake—a variety of grand guignol. But in these poems, it’s a genuine and almost compulsive response to the—well, horror that surrounds us. Zaccardi looks closely at things most of us studiously ignore or see as social issues that provide an opportunity to do good from a distance. In these poems we witness human consciousness barely holding itself together in the face of suffering that just is. No one to blame. Not much to be done.
“The Sound the Tree Makes” turns out to be a scream and the answer to Bishop Berkeley’s question that even if no human hears it, the other trees do. And this is only a tree—perhaps ridiculous if Zaccardi hadn’t given us such a vivid description of the tortures inflicted on logs in a lumber mill. When he focuses on human suffering in “ICU”, we’re forced to see the awfulness of hospitals that we try to pretend isn’t there among the pastels and smooth jazz: “…a gurney casting chirps down a corridor…while IVs beep and air whistles from tap holes” and “a defibrillator delivers doses of electric current to undo a flatliner”.
In all this, Zaccardi exhibits a craftsman’s skill with the unpunctuated, run-on prose poem. We are carried long by the ebb and flow of rhythms rather than bogged down in the usual unreadable clot. This gives the poems tension—an odd exhilaration that runs counter to their grim subject matter. And he does make an effort to reach some sort of quietness if not peace of mind in the final section, which shifts tone radically to pay homage to classical Chinese poetry. But it’s too little too late to offset the preceding darkness.
And yet, like the spiders he writes about in “Circle and Alchemy”, his work is both “beautiful and hair-raising”. Although their webs and our lives are fragile and tear apart easily, we “rebuild because there is so much left.”
You can find the book here: https://kelsaybooks.com/products/the-weight-of-bodily-touches
Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks. For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com.
By Mark Eisner
This book is a forest of love, the richness grown from the shared familiar roots in the fertile Spanish soil of poetry, then spread around the world.
This remarkable forest is a trove of love, grown from shared roots, originating in the fertile Spanish tierra de poesia. The love of a daughter translating her father’s words for all eternity, published just at his death. A renaissance man, and his daughter, a renaissance woman, all of their wonders, all of their life, all of their art now fused together even more through the act of translation. Both have placed their lives in the service of poetry, and it shows. José Manuel’s poetry is informed by the generation in Spain just before him –– Lorca, Machado, it’s evident in the flavors he evokes –– but he takes the baton to create his own voice, inspiring and insightful voice, propelling yet grounding, salted by his experience in political exile.
Above all, “Ode to a Young Mariner” moved me the most, its qualities emblematic of what makes this book work so well. The poem dedicated to the poet’s brother, who at the same time is the translator’s uncle –– movingly and convincingly so that it rowed my heart with warm, resonating, lingering strokes: the endearment and respect for a sibling, the duty as a mariner like the duty as a poet, the reverence that roots this family, the love that lights the words, the woods of this book.
And what a treat for those who don’t read Spanish to be able to have this collection of this truly special poet’s work finally available, accessible for their easy enrichment.
You can find the book here: https://amzn.to/2w8e5kV
Mark Eisner has spent most of the past two decades working on creative works related to Pablo Neruda. They include Neruda: The Biography of a Poet (Ecco, 2018), a finalist for the PEN/Bograd Weld Prize for Biography. He also edited and was one of the principal translators for The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems (City Lights, 2004) and is currently producing a documentary film on the poet. A bilingual anthology of Latin American Poetry in Resistance Eisner co-edited is forthcoming in 2020. More info at www.markeisner.net.
Eating Raw Meat and Other Nuances of Life has just been released by Alien Buddha Press.
What Others Say About Eating Raw Meat and Other Nuances of Life
“g emil reutter writes the poem the way I like it – sharp, detailed imagery, paintings in black ink carved into the page – the minutiae of life under the microscope. There’s clarity and depth here in this book but there’s power too – the power to move the mind and the soul. These words are fine words. My kind of poems. They should be yours too.” -Adrian Manning- Poet and Publisher at Concrete Meat Press
“Beneath dark shadows of maples, this watcher observes unnamed strangers and lovers beneath a generous moon, sympathetically and precisely with the eye of an oil painter. The night turns to day, the seasons change, and the cycles renew. A fine collection for any palate”. – Russell Streur – Editor, The Plum Tree Tavern
In Eating Raw Meat, g emil reutter proclaims, “I stand on the rubble that is left / of the American dream”; looking out from that prospect, he tells us, “I think of the hard working class.” Yet, even as these poems show us hard labor and trashed dreams, reutter affirms how close attention to those lives and to the natural world serves to redeem us on this “beautiful brutal blue planet.” “I work the / garden the way I work a poem,” he tells us; and, centered among existences, “I … listen to what they say, watch what they do and write what I can.” This attention results in poems of integrity and of beauty: “rhythm / of rain, cadence of thunder, lyrical / hissing of wind.”
-Nathalie F. Anderson – Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor of English Literature and Director of the Program in Creative Writing – Swarthmore College
Check out the book here: Eating Raw Meat and Other Nuances of Life