Coffee Spew had a front row seat at Avol’s Books in Madison on March 12 for a reading by the members of the Prairie Fire Poetry Quartet: John Lehman, Robin Chapman, Richard Roe, and Shoshauna Shy. The night was dubbed Stage Left in honor of John Lehman’s new chapbook, Acting Lessons, recently published by the University of Wisconsin’s Parallel Press.
Enjoy these audio clips of the evening:
Abundance / Robin Chapman
Yes, write of it, here right now,
in the middle of winter, snow
pock-marked with tracks
of squirrels and the backyard rabbit,
mice that spiral the long grass
into nests, the pair of cardinals
who own the house and all the trees
surrounding it, the raccoon family
from the water drain at the end
of the block (their eyes gleam
through the sewer grate on cold
night walks) who stop on their own
nightly rounds to pour the feeder seed
down their throats, the housefinches
from the front porchlight, heads
soaked in berry-red, foraging leftovers,
the chickadees dry and two-note calling
in the arborvitae, finishing off from a claw
the single sunflower seed that each
takes to a branch: we are wealthy,
wealthy in the black oil of seed, the gold
of cracked corn, the brushy thickets
of security from cats, the abundant lives
of our neighbors.
From Abundance (Cider Press, 2009). Other books by Robin Chapman include Smoke and Strong Whiskey (WordTech Communications, 2008), and The Dreamer Who Counted the Dead (WordTech Communications, 2007). Her website is Robin Chapman’s Poem a Day.
Invisible Men with X-Ray Eyes / John Lehman
Last night I heard the whistle of a distant train.
Today instead of going to work, I walk down
a block to talk with the garbage man who is
waiting inside his truck for the drizzle to let up.
It’s not one of those two-story, Frankenstein
giants with weightlifter arms that hoists trash
over its head to dump it with a grunt, but a
sports car-sleek garbage truck, flaunting sort-
at-the-curb bins that are politically correct. I’ve
the urge to break away from my life for a while.
And sometimes in the rain, strange alliances
At the next stop the driver shows me how to
lift a can—most are plastic now—and deposit
its bags of spilling guts, then swing it ‘round
and grab another to a banging beat. I put my
feet on the running board, he shifts the gears
and when he brakes, I play it solo. I catch the
rhythm. He nods. Garbage men are not the stuff
of TV shows, but that’s their mystique. They are
everywhere, unnoticed, but aware of everything.
From magazines we read to hair we’ve lost,
to the degree that our discarded underwear
They are anthropologists studying a world we
furnish with debris. They smell our smells, taste
what we taste, feel the cans and boxes that
contain the food that shapes our shapes. And
here’s my house. What waste our lives become.
Once I was in an experimental drama. Tom,
a mid-level accountant, and I played hobos. He
needed a release from the minutia of the “day
by day.” To prepare for our roles we went to the
freight yard. I was chicken, but he hopped into
the open yellow boxcar of a slow-moving train.
I never saw Tom again.
From Acting Lessons (Parallel Press, 2008). Other books by John Lehman include Shorts: 101 Brief Poems of Wonder and Surprise (Zelda Wilde Publishing, 2005) and Dogs Dream of Running (Salmon Run Press, 2001). His website is Cool Plums.
First Lesson / Richard Roe
Imagine the tallest tree in a forest
and you looking past clouds and mountain peaks.
Grip like a hawk and breathe until you sense
the tree’s roots, trunk’s length, the sap
rising, and push off. Feel the top of your skull
pulled by a taut string into sky’s depths,
you shushing the wind; laugh in short bursts.
Fall and rise, ride to the knife-sharp edge of a draft,
giving the ride voice, calling you, you, and we
to anyone who could listen.
Believe you have a third eye, a space
sound rushes to like water from a pump.
Release that sound and draw lip-crisped
air past your teeth, form your abdomen
like the roundest of hills. Push your midriff
at the hard wood of your backbone, release,
letting an egg rest on your tongue
like the hollow space of a nest.
This is your sound. You are ready
to begin your first song.
Richard Roe’s books include Knots of Sweet Longing (Wolfsong Publications, 2001), What Will You Find at the Edge of the World (Fireweed Press, 2001), and Bringer of Songs (Fireweed Press, 1994).
Wife / Shoshauna Shy
He wanted to want her
but being able to have her
at any given time
It was only in sleep he was aroused
as he tilted through dreams where she became
the Kwik-Trip cashier, Eddie’s sister-in-law
or the sub from sixth grade.
Her plumping of pillows, her mashing potatoes
sang of aprons and Mama and pink medicine
which left him as flaccid as a fish on a dock
till the evening he happened
to be hosing the begonias
while she was undressing
at their bedroom window.
Out of her slip he saw her shimmy,
spread her skirt on the wingback chair,
the parted lace curtains a picture frame
to their dark yard that fanned
like a bellows behind him.
He watched as she leaned
and brushed loose her hair,
then he raced inside ready
to shuck off his trousers.
Now she ponders why he disappears
following the finish of NewsLine at ten.
He claims he forgot to fertilize the roses.
From What the Postcard Didn’t Say (Zelda Wilde Publishing, 2007). Shoshauna Shy’s other books include White Horses on Sale for a Song (Parallel Press, 2005). In 2004 she founded a program called Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf, the mission of which is to place poetry in public places where it is not expected.