Oregon poet, Mark Thalman, helps us springboard into new guest writer features with four poems from Catching the Limit (© 2009, Bedbug Press – Fairweather Books), part of the Northwest Poetry Series. Thalman received his MFA from the University of Oregon, and has been teaching English in the public schools for 28 years. He’s also been a board member of the Portland Poetry Festival, a Poet-in-the-Schools for the Oregon Arts Foundation, and an Assistant Editor for the Northwest Review. His work has appeared in Carolina Quarterly, CutBank, Many Mountains Moving, Pedestal Magazine, and Verse Daily, among others. The following poems appear with his permission.
Out here is miles from anywhere.
Coyotes, cattle, and sun become your companions.
Hills roll and fold, a sea of giant swells,
then flatten out, lay calm, in bleaching summer heat.
When evening unveils its stars,
life shrinks under the universe.
For centuries, Nez Perce came to trade for Columbia salmon,
then Pioneers snaked wagons down the Blue Mountains.
Even today, dust devils coil up,
and rivers cut deep gorges.
Sage grows low so wind can go where it wants–
whistling through wire fences.
[Previously published in Writers' Dojo]
AT THE CABIN: ODELL LAKE
Not having talked to anyone in a week,
I keep my voice in shape
by standing on the swing,
knees pumping, arms flexing ropes–
making the board go
back and forth,
higher and higher,
until I´ve got enough momentum
and become the metronome.
If I am off key or forget a lyric,
there is no one to hear it.
On a slight breeze, I sing to my favorite trees,
chipmunks scampering the wood pile,
the shy rabbit by the lake. I sing
through soft filtered light–
a couple of Elvis, a bunch of Beatles,
followed by some soul,
and a medley of rock n´ roll.
Firs, having stood for hundreds of years,
absorb my voice. When I stop
not much has changed.
The world is a little older, the planet
a little further through space.
[Previously published in Pedestal Magazine]
HIGHWAY TO THE COAST
Thick and green, the hills rise
on each other’s shoulders.
High ridges disappear in fog
make me wish I was born of water.
At the divide, I taste the cool ocean air,
the way a deer finds a salt lick,
and roller coaster down a narrow road
that does not believe in a straight line.
crawl through barbed wire fences.
Small towns occur like a whim.
As if in a coma, they merely survive.
I tune in the only station
and listen to country western.
Static gradually drowns the singer out.
Rounding a corner, he pops to the surface
for another breath,
simply to sink back still singing.
Fir shadows lace the road.
Bracken cascades embankments.
At the next curve, a farmhouse is half finished–
boards weathered raw. Chickens roost in a gutted Chevy.
Scattered among these hills, families
rely on small private lumber mills,
the disability or unemployment check,
the killing of an out of season elk.
[First appeared in Caffeine Destiny]
NORTH UMPQUA, SUMMER RUN
I cast a fly
which I tied last winter,
and let it drift
below the riffle.
There, a steelhead lies,
weighing the current,
balancing in one place,
the mouth slowly working
open and closed.
While eyes that have never known sleep
signal the body to rise,
slide steadily forward,
over mossy stones.
In a smooth flash of motion,
deft as a blade, the fish strikes
and the surface explodes.
Trembling violently in air,
amid spray and foam,
the steelhead blazes like a mirror catching sun,
falls back, extinguishing the fire,
only to lift again,
a flame out of water.
In a long meteoric arc,
cutting a vee across the surface,
the fish unable to dislodge the hook,
dashes instinctively down stream.
Zigzagging back and forth,
fight the current and line,
it is only a matter of time,
until this miracle of energy
rests on its side,
She’s fat with roe,
so I work the barb out
and let her go
on her journey
there is no escape.
[Previously published by Gin Bender Poetry Review; later appeared in Deer Drink the Moon: Poems of Oregon, Ooligan Press, Portland State University)
Thalman will be part of a panel discussion on Oregon poetry during the upcoming Summer Solstice Poetry Weekend, coordinated by Eleanor Berry. The discussion takes place on Saturday, June 26th, from 1:30 – 3:30 in the Stayton Public Library meeting room in Stayton, Oregon. On Sunday the 27th, from 3-5 p.m., Thalman will be among the events featured readers at the Stayton Friends of the Library Used Bookstore.
Read another of Thalman’s poems here.