Pathless, at the beginning–
a wandering, turf and rock,
getting to know landscape.
Recall: the faint meander
of crushed grass, a sense of others ahead.
Follow the hint, don’t fear the bones along the verge.
Roads are palimpsests – so many journeys
interlaced; each destination a bird flying ahead.
No one chooses where they start, but choose now
the route, choose your pace – eager, fast,
sure of the castle beyond the mountains.
The scant nourishment bewilders, worries,
but can’t slow you at first.
Remember the woods? The golden birds
like autumn leaves, the tang of daffodils
along the edge, the deep moss wisdom hidden
in shadows. Take a narrow path. The wide
road never drew you. Follow where
foxglove lurks and streams nose the shallows.
It was decades ago, and is still today –
Time is air and breath;
heartbeat the road.
Avoid the marshes, though you never can,
and others will release you
eventually. Stay where white pebbles can be found.
In your pocket, your desires wait, seeds or stones –
it’s hard to say. Listen to the wind.
There are maps in dreams, though they wisp away
like fog, like breath. Don’t regret solitude,
but share your path when you can –
leave a white pebble
at every parting.
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”
I see the world in a grain of sand,
each pixel is a panorama. The wing
of a butterfly carries the perimeter
of the sky and the eye of a fish
the oceans. Each teardrop glistens
with the glitter of galaxies
while each speck of light that raids
my room reflects a thousand suns.
There’s a nano-universe in everything
platonic ideas float around:
the everythingness of everything.
I am a metonym too: the eye
of boundless mankind—the light
that seeks light to discover
what it really is, where it belongs!
The Painter: Still Life | Poem by Beth Brown Preston
You sat with brushes in hand
and the light flowing above and below,
the prayer like paper,
the light illuminated all our sacred trees.
Somehow, we forgot all our raucous
and joyous past loves
when I asked you to listen
for the screen door’s slam
and the call to supper
as I brought you the evening meal.
And then there was that folio of your recent sketches:
so many similar dark faces filled with joy.
I gazed at the rich, brown texture of watercolors on the page,
a man’s tortured face, his beard, his glowing tough bronzed skin.
You said it was a portrait of your brother,
who died overseas during a rain of fire in the Vietnam war.
And you put down your brushes
to confess we were going to start life all over again
without waging the private wars that keep us together.
The Poetry School of Experience Revisited: The War Doesn’t End
Book Review by Rob Greene
∞This essay was first published in Valparaiso Poetry Review in 2023.
Undress, She Said
by Doug Anderson.
Four Way Books, 2022,
$17.95 USD, paper.
Doug Anderson’s collection—Undress, She Said—has hooks and turns as effective as a James Wright last line. Just ask “Pastor Fred” who felt the crisp belt of one of Anderson’s deft hooks and turns .
Many of us are taught to fight for our lives, whether as kids, soldiers, or civilians looking back on traumatic experiences. Doug Anderson’s latest collection Undress, She Said is full of empathetic touchstones, conveying understanding for others in the battle to stay alive through shared experiences of war, addiction, recovery, loss, love, work, caretaking, and fear.
I opened the book directly to Part II, titled, The War Doesn’t End. I can see why the editors at Four Way Books want this chapter to function as a spine, splitting the center of the book, as it contains elements of war and platoon camaraderie, and conveys empathy even for the enemy in a time of war.
In Anderson’s poem “Splibs and Chucks,” we witness a brotherhood among those who are Black along with those who are white who were likely “taught to hate each other in some funky ass bean town in Mississippi” . We see the loss of a brother, through images that give us a glimpse of our own losses, whether to war or other tragedy. We, too, have seen the grim silhouettes in the shadows that mirror images of those from our past.
On the trip “Driving Down Route 9 Last Night” we motor on by the Veterans’ hospital, where some of us hallucinate in the radical dark either by way of the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Schizophrenia. I am not positing the speaker has either of these conditions though I, as the reviewer, have both these illnesses, so I can easily see the hallucinatory images Anderson conjures up from his memories of the Vietnam war. Yes, such experiences are valid and yes, they are believable.
For his ability to unflinchingly speak freely of his time in the military, I have much respect and admiration for Doug Anderson, who shares careful and thoughtful expressions on moments in history when Americans were sent to burn “the poisoned land, for reasons that grow dimmer every year we were sent to fight” .
Though we are Veterans from different eras with different experiences, I can visualize the images in Anderson’s poems, as they contain extensive and layered tenors that ride inside the vehicles of the multi-tiered metaphors. These poems have the ability to resonate with service members and also with civilians.
In “Killing with a Name,” we see American platoon members pull a five-foot Vietnamese man from the hole he was battling from, to see his face. Never again could the poet call the Vietnamese people by the names the Americans of that time were taught to say, to vilify the enemy. I shall follow the poet’s example and not repeat the racist epithets that were used to animalize the people of Vietnam, but we must reckon with the consequences of the propaganda that comes with war. As stated in the poem”Killing with a Name,” while in the village, it was somewhat easier to “kill its vermin” than it was to harm innocent human beings.
Time and again throughout this book, we are met with Anderson’s bravery to speak out to those who can and do empathize and sympathize with him. In his poem “The Good Doctor,” some readers will recognize that “flattened affect” and appreciate it; some of us speak in a blunted affect as we are suppressing our trauma and experiences. At the same time, Anderson writes “of things too dreadful for others to speak of without trembling” .
In lighter moments of the war, if that is possible, Anderson’s poem “Fishing on the Lunar New Year” shows us how some fished with grenades. Yes, a first grenade toss, or drop can make your palms sweat and your knees will shake. In the poem “Little Chi” we meet a kid selling popsicles on a 120-degree day to the soldiers on both sides. Little Chi reminded me of Ernest Hemingway when he served chocolates and cigarettes to the soldiers. The battle arrived directly in Little Chi’s homeland, and he likely had no choice except to find a purpose during these hellish times.
However, in the poem “The War Doesn’t End” we see signs of xenophobia among the people of today’s Vietnam. Those who are of other races and nationalities, including “Amerasians,” the children of soldiers, are unwelcome by some, even if Vietnam is the only home they have known. When soldiers set out on foreign lands, the illegitimate children created in times of war—and their mothers—have no recourse to be supported by their military fathers deployed overseas. There are many born during times of war, and many of these kids are at risk of exclusion and extreme poverty. Anderson’s poem reminds us of all those who are left behind, and no, “The War Doesn’t End” for them.
To illustrate the effectiveness of his craft, in particular his ability to convey empathy and care via the imagery and tenors of this collection, I shall close out this review with Doug Anderson’s poem “Somewhere South of Danang, 1967.” And yes, the last line gives us hope for a better tomorrow:
At dawn we sit in ambush outside the village.
A cat emerges from the ground fog,
sniffs the air, passes through us
with indifference. The sun
turns the fog to spun glass.
Spiderwebs with drops of dew
hang in the trees.
We see a saffron shape
coming through the fog.
Safeties are eased off. Fingers
rest lightly on triggers.
A young monk emerges from the fog,
kneels on the ground in front of us
closes his eyes and frowns.
We check his ID and send him
on his way. A rooster crows in the village.
Someone lights a fire. We will not fight today.
The pitch is a glorious green, a thousand
blades of grass appearing as one.
Half these kids are focused, determined;
the others are untamed gusts of wind.
The drills are simple: Pass. Move.
Receive. But what are we learning?
To imagine a future from the scraps
made of our lives, to look at stars
and shape them into legends. Pass.
Move. Receive. To develop an ear
for the heartbeat of your neighbor,
to feel his song on the side of your foot.
They clump like stale sugar. They stumble,
they flail, they turn their heads inside out.
This is hard work, this battle of the soul.
We break to drink, to slow the breath,
then we’re at it again: Pass. Move. Receive.
Lift up your gaze. Open your eyes. See.
You shove open all the windows
because you’re always too warm
but I’m too cold
so I bang them shut again
Your fingers dig among tentacle roots and dark loam
While my hands flutter across a silver laptop
You love to sleep under slowly spinning constellations
My idea of roughing it:
I jounce right out of bed
You linger under the covers
flicking through your phone
“I like a Gershwin tune…”
and you like the Stones
I go for a lick of haiku
You gnaw through long novels
You ride your bike up Mont Ventoux
I pay a call on my favorite
Delacroix’s in the Louvre
And yet we meet every night
by the pixel glow of the TV
side by side on the sofa
we gradually lean into one another
and our hands
edge closer and closer
till at last
Domino Days | Poem by Zack Rogow
beating the odds
to find you
Las Vegas snow
reaching past the city limits
everywhere we share is home
smell of cinnamon
fills the air
pigeons flit up
then settle on the wires
of the pear stem
in the eddies of the stream
the first fallen leaves
learning next time
she shouldn’t swallow
Moon Dancer Winery
as she always said
spring forward and fall back
a ring-necked pheasant
frozen in the median
hearing her child play the triangle once
two hours well spent
of nymphs and fauns make merry
beyond the horizon
mother’s tail waddling
the ducklings form a line
a sushi roll
shrimp and cucumber inside
somersaulting down the hill
grass stains their momento
of the Lyrids
mason jar on the windowsill
fireflies keep monsters away
a box fan
flips the lunar atlas
to the dark side
chocolates her trail
to the bath for two
in the swelling
of her hips
as she takes off her cover-up
a large surge overtakes the beach
his hives buzz the almonds
his mind on mead
hot from the oven
the slow drizzle of honey
her fingertips stained red
christening the ship
what a waste of good champagne!
isn’t the only thing
his fists shattered
seven years bad luck
ball and chain
the safe word garbled:
the dirtier the better
he counts out the quarters
to put in the bed
what dwells among the trees
in Acadia National Park?
mystery of Stonehenge
the toddler balances
himself across the railing
I kept telling them
to stay out of the hawthorns
only fearing the plunge
while hippos lurked below
Victoria Falls Devil’s Pool
in jet and black lace
days feel like years
waiting for the Ice Moon
at absolute zero it would form
a Bose-Einstein Condensate
whispering a kōan:
am I the square root
of negative one?
collection plate, child exclaims
“Wow, dad is that a real hundred?!”
the softness of the hardness
of a wooden pillow
running late for Monday night football
Amish horse and buggy tailgating
even invented a calendar
to erase the past
could scientists accept Pluto
if it still identifies as a planet?
the old couple
complains about the ginkgo nuts
that the squirrels crave
grandpop’s worn flannel
now flaps on the scarecrow
the Darkest Depths Moon
light shining down the rabbit hole
he’s too far to reach
so he goes deeper
toward the voices singing
Don’t come around here no more*
fairies dance to
the man with the stone flute
for just a week
the apple blossoms
soften the granite
laying nine pink peonies
one for each month of her life
her first steps
into the next chapter
the coelacanth wriggles
onto the sand
boys await eagerly
covered in clouds
trying to make sense
of his itinerary
in his arms
a bouquet of compass roses
holding her tightly
until the reality
of the alarm clock
a pair of turtledoves
cooing at the window
fighting through the pane
visitation at the prison
ends with heartache
running through the atrium
into the sunlight
little girl’s hair
white like grandma’s
sweet tea or lemonade,
on the saucer
bitten orange macaron
the Sphinx’s nose
lost to history
of passenger pigeons roost
in the chestnuts
the driver was riding high
on more than adrenaline
cast iron pan
blood spots on the yolks frying
he fine tunes the aluminum
unzipping the skinsuit
she relishes the starshine
on her scales
lost in translation
the hiss and groan
of suburban leaf blowers
muffle the worm’s cry
the ladder falls away
a faceless reaper
comes in from the field
a romp in the hay
he envisions his ex
an elixir of forgetfulness
in empty glasses
countless love letters
the mail their only contact
seventeen cherry trees
survive the attack
on Washington, DC
moss hiding secrets
a gasket in a casket
aircraft door rips open
smooth and silent at dawn
the waters of the Hudson
traversing the city
they cross the Tappan Zee
a third time
the Minotaur’s horns
redoubled in her green eyes
at the sight
of the wind
tossing and whipping
Samson’s locks and trust
hitting the floor
then the universe
the world shifts
into a glacial period
frame a Frozen Moon
picture perfect Christmas
we hide our imperfections
under shiny paper
chlorine fills the foxhole
Now no man at the table
knew for what intent
he spake this unto him^
the agenda deepens
Alexa and Siri say, “I do”
baby name database
deciding on the name
below her the glass ceiling
leaves her loom
and blows out a candle
adding drops of lavender oil
to the fake flower bouquet
lead us on
on the map of my life
‘X’ marks the spot on his heart
It’s a good day
I haven’t forgotten yet
Who my wife is, arms around each body’s curve
respectfully, formal, not to embarrass our grand daughter
with a dance floor kiss amongst the old folks
at her wedding, at her behest, we’re in the first dance
after the newlyweds get things started
It’s a good day, I look into her eyes,
she’s not familiar but she smiles, is it my wife or mother
or is it the daddy-daughter dance, or the grand daughter bride
hard to tell her age
or the time
~ watch ~
they switch effortlessly like a waltz, a square dance,
around the circus dance hall, people stare:
~ trade ~
Have we eaten yet?
How did I get in this suit?
Am I the groom or parent here
there? what year is it, what vintage suits… my needs:
I am younger, feel the hot blood in my limbs
My pain is gone but rage and bad decisions
I didn’t think it was a bad day, feels woozy coming down
Straight from a bender
Who’s that handsome disheveled – Was it me? it gets foggy
Help me remember, dance close and whisper
in my ear as if it’s a sweet nothing
glance admiration so that people
you’re guiding me today
on the stone sober basics
not dance steps with my two left feet
~ slow it ~
but the orientation
to person, place, and time, the big 3 when my doctor subtly inquires
Doctor? Here? I don’t need to see one, why do you keep asking, or did you?
I haven’t drank, leave me alone woman
What’s Old Timer’s disease, that’s not me – leave me
It’s a bad day
I’m drunk and young at the wedding, a fight breaks out
I think it was me
I tried to forget…
Or when I drove and wouldn’t surrender the keys
How you cowered in the passenger side as cops asked
Whether you were afraid of my driving or of me per se
Person of interest, maybe I wasn’t so interesting
I think I did a lot of high minded things that let her down
I bring her tears and shame, maybe it was just
overwhelming emotion from the matrimony
does she know I flirted with the brides maids?
yes, women discuss everything, why
do I remember that and nothing else
how big her heart is still, to be with me
does she know about that time I was away
at the service
or was it a funeral
or did that come later, it’s a cycle so why
does it matter if I keep them straight, the names will change
in a weak
moment of the mind
but she looks at me like I’m a good man, did she forget or
did it come out in the balance, more good than bad
or maybe she forgot…
Help me forget
So that this one embrace, At this one moment in time
we can play the role
And people can look
on and smile
at how cute the grandparents are
I deserve that respect
I’ll say Grace and boast how we’ve been married 90 years
And you will, as always, hand gently on my forearm
nudge me into jovial correction:
Dear it’s only been 60, I know you think it’s an
Eternity in wedded bliss
Take your pills and behave
The family’s watching. It will make the bride happy.