Notable Books by North Carolina Writers: June, 2005
Two Books by Dennis Sampson: Needlegrass
(Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2005)
For My Father Falling Asleep at Saint Mary's Hospital
(Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2005)
If You Were Here
Let me tell you how the wind in the summer drought
withered the sumac beside the chain-link fence
and whisked the clouds away. They came back
again and again. There were enough clouds for us all.
How one night I turned on the light outside the porch
and it lit just half the suffering mulberry
bent and reaching upward with its fingertips touching
the full moon. It seemed skeletal, beautiful. A ghost.
I was alone. But I never lost the feeling of being watched
by what was compassionate—thus my mumbled
conversations sitting in my Adirondack chair outside as the sun
rushed up. The dawn: impossible to believe I missed it for one month.
Sorrow. There was sorrow. The first snow stained my heart
because I wasn't ready for that gentleness,
the inner transformation mocked by flakes that flew.
How did that happen so suddenly when I worked so hard?
I can identify for you the various weeds, read the minds of flowers,
show how the liturgy of the cardinal
exemplies that love is nearly enough. It never is.
For once the world can't be betrayed by the beautiful lie.
Honor the Cold Wind and the Clear Day
vast invisibilities of light and darkness,
the four truths of the earth,
flesh of the martyr coated with tar
to burn slowly, wood smoke blowing in
over the city changing to April rain,
the water relentlessly moving,
the blue flower on the porch,
the Appaloosa with her gentle yes
cropping grass in late August,
the silence of night without stars,
morning that endlessly wakens,
the nun, the night nurse. Honor the winding
path where the serpent coils, contriver of storms,
thunder that shakes the house
for days, the blood-colored sunset
over the gulf off the coast of Florida.
Taste of salt. The scent, at first confusing,
coming from the apple trees across the avenue,
grass sprung up in the cracks of mortar,
this morning's cry of crickets
underneath my window. Skin and scroll.
The lyrical imitation offered by the mockingbird.
At the wake for Malcolm Lee, honor the coffin
and baby carriage inside the door,
the chalice over which a red spell hovers,
memory, and memory's mole: the close of autumn
and clean wood cleft by an ax, water,
the threat of thirst at the back of the mouth,
the first pulse created out of love for what is there
like a hand gone looking for another in the dark.
Mother and Father in this Photograph Look
so young. What a beautiful life she'll have with this man
already bald at thirty. Then here they are, old and sentimental,
ravaged by children and doubt about what to do with a daughter
wanting to borrow money, a restless son who gets drunk
and drives his Pontiac around in the dark. How fragile
they've become after years of being here on this planet,
accepted without questioning—one with a hearing aid, fastidious,
vacuuming and scrubbing, spraying the tabletops with Pledge,
the other refusing to explain about the knee that makes her wince
when she's just sitting. Their lives are so intertwined
separation through death would be a crime. And yet one must go—
the other struggle briefly to survive.
When I Lifted My Father Out of His Hospital Bed
and arranged him in his wheelchair
wind sang in the green field, caressing a piece of cellophane entangled
in a fence line above the Missouri River. The uncomprehending sky
had nothing else to witness when I carried him
so he could sit awhile in his burgundy chair
overlooking Robinson Street, small, bewildered. A father
in your arms is a promise kept: valediction of sage, rage of sunflower,
needlegrass and blizzard—
the oncologist who looks you frighteningly straight in the face.
Hawks circling so high you think you yourself are drifting.
I will go to the river in the night and wait for the dawn that appeared
beneath a door when I was seven.
I will refuse to move until that light is given.
In the Silence the Young Indian Orderly Danaught
shaves you, changes your blood-stained sheets. A blonde towel
is tucked up under your chin to support your jaw. This is for your wife
who will sit with you by the crimson lampshade—one hand over the other.
In her frayed cardigan sweater, in her gray corduroy pants, she kisses
you on the brow when she comes in, then stands awhile
over your bedrail looking into your far eyes that no longer recognize,
no longer want anything to do with this brown world.
Death takes our breath away; endless. Without cause.
Incredible the way the dead demonstrate how powerful they are,
their future contained within an expressionless brow,
superior even to the wildest sorrow. To laying on of hands, to libations.
Forget them. Forget this moment in desperate November, one person
speaking to another. What brought the two of you to this moment
is what counts. Carry a candle to the cold balcony and watch the flame
go out, into this windlessness that includes the evening star.
Dennis Sampson has published five books of poetry and has written essays and reviews for such magazines as The Hudson Review and Poet Lore. He teaches at Wake Forest University. The first two poems are from his collectionNeedlegrass. The following three poems are drawn from For My Father Falling Asleep at Saint Mary's Hospital. All are reproduced here with permission of the author, who holds the copyright. Of these two books, the short story writer and playwright Dan Domench says, "It is no surprise that Sampson has struggled to be recognized by his peers. My God, who wants to deal with him? He is too serious minded. Too intimate, too present. Don't let him get near. But Sampson in his poetry is changing the world by praising it."