Roger Mitchell



Atrium

Whiff of fudge brownie, clack of broken cartwheel, coffee
        under the cool
reminiscences of Chet Baker's burred versions
        of bop. He can't dismiss the memory
                of someone's kiss, but nearly killed himself on coke
or heroin
        while I was standing in front of a clock

wondering what time was. Or maybe driving that cab
        a world away,
the one with a tremble of loose bolts in its throat
        (I was never sure what gear I was in),
                wobble of simultaneous mutinies, called
having not one
        idea where I might untie my shoes

in six months, a year, except on the planet somewhere.
        Forty or so
years later, still polishing the slick surfaces
        of the morning, this day a wash of pale
                sunlight off the tan-gray slabs of pre-stressed concrete
behind David Smith's
        "Volton XXV," debris of steel mill

welded almost where it fell. It was trying to draw that,
        the flat, cold wall
behind it, that showed me the unstillness of raw space,
        throw whatever you like up into it.
                The potted ficus across the way holds its leaves
outward, as in
        "eagerness to be," bottled in this light.


A Night on a Polder

I slept all night on a polder once
in a big Dutch bed, feeling,
as I often do when I'm away
from all those gadgets known as home
(and not so incidentally surrounded
by water), that I could live forever,
or what's left of it, on whatever
beach I've landed, star I've grabbed.
The rickety ferry had room only
for a small car and a bike or two.
And a hiker, a lad with a knapsack
and a hundred questions about dikes,
about which the Dutch understandably
speak with authority. The ferryman,
a man with a limp, handed my money back.
"Don't worry," he said,
"I'll get you on the way off."
That night, as I was eating my cheese
and roll, and later, stretched in bed,
loving the Dutch and the word, polder,
and thinking about possibly walking
the rest of my life, I thought, if I stayed,
and staying, never approached,
the ferryman or his ferry,
I would have a life as free as grease
on a little man-made island behind a dike
in the middle of the land itself,
land that grew cheese and, therefore, cows.
And, if I wanted anything at all,
I would merely ask, and like the ferry,
it would be given me, free as the wind,
about which, too, the Dutch are as expert
as they are at tulips and canals.
And, like the windmill of Dutch myth,
I would turn terrifically, grind out
whatever it is on a polder you need.
Very little, I was led to believe,
wrapped as you are in water and wind
with a little ferry to one side,
which you or anyone could pull by rope.
But I'd forgotten the grain of sand
inside the shoe, the baby left with a note
on a stranger's doorstep, the longing
cast daily at the horizon for the gold
on the other side. So, I left next morning,
thanking the ferryman as he got me.


Coal Train

Twice a day the coal train slides through town.
I like to count the cars, but after fifty,
lose my place, then give it up, happy
just to listen to the clip and clank the coal cars make,
each coal car topped with nineteen tons of black
bituminous debris. I'm only guessing
at the tonnage. It doesn't matter if I'm off.
It looks like nineteen tons and sounds like more,
like someone turned the earth on, told it, Roll
that buried thunder, shake those aching bones.
At 3AM, again, my pituitary
starts to vibrate. Sleep slips off the shelf.
They thought they'd sneak it past as dream stuck
on replay, as mountains turning over
in their sleep, as a hum heard only by bats
hanging by their wing claws in a cave
too deep to spelunk, too close to magma.
This sluggish worm, segmented, in a gastric
rattle, rumbles down the valley to feed
the tall stacks of the generating plant.
The dinosaurs staggered to their death
not far from here. Something must have watched it, too.
Though what? A mountain melt into the sea?
A drained ocean give up its eyeless jellies?
Or just the stumble and collapse of bodies?
What form the watcher took, rodent or bird,
serpent or mole, maybe it, too, stood here
dreaming, trying not to see what it saw.


About the Author

Roger Mitchell - Roger Mitchell is the author of ten books of poetry, a work of nonfiction, and numerous reviews and essays.

His work has appeared in leading journals in the U.S. and abroad and has been anthologized more than thirty times. Awards for this work include the Midland Poetry Award for his first book, Letters From Siberia, the John Ben Snow Award for Clear Pond: The Reconstruction of a Life, a work of nonfiction, for which he was also made an honorary citizen of the Town of North Hudson in Essex County, New York, and the Akron Prize in Poetry for his book, Delicate Bait. He has twice received a fellowship in Creative Writing from the National Endowment for the Arts. His most recent book, Lemon Peeled the Moment Before: New and Selected Poems, published by Ausable Press late last year, won Adirondack Literary Festival's Readers' Choice Award for Best Book of 2008.

For many years he taught in and directed the MFA program at Indiana University-Bloomington and was for ten years Director of that university's summer writers' conference. Today he lives in Jay, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains, with his wife, the fiction writer, Dorian Gossy. This is the part of the world he came from. Their piece of it is part of an old farm in the Ausable Valley with

...low hills clustered thick
around some rocks the river hasn't budged
in ten thousand years. Tools and their uses
scattered along the fence, only a few
of which I recognize, but, clear or not,
I carry what I can lift out to the field,
and make a few arrangements out of things
that, if they didn't give life, made it work.

-from "Farmers"

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