October 18, 2014

POETRY BY LOWELL JAEGER

As founding editor of Many Voices Press, Lowell Jaeger compiled Poems Across the Big Sky, an anthology of Montana poets, and  New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from 11 Western states. He is author of five collections of poems, most recent of which is How Quickly What’s Passing Goes Past  (Grayson Books 2013).  He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.
MANY VOICES PRESS
GRAYSON BOOKS




How One Teenage Lark Ended

We'd awoke — two kids hitching west —
camped on high ground, now gazing down upon a wash of mud, 
trucks upended, long ranks of parking meters like seaweed flattened
in the flood.  Both of us grinning stupid
as we sloshed through lives of strangers
buried overnight.
Something to tell back home.

She volunteered in the school gym — truckloads
of donated clothes to be sorted, folded, boxed.  Two
ten hour shifts of that, and she smelled
like mothballs.  Complained for the shower
none of us could take.  Sick
of so many women breaking down.

She dialed first the bus depot.  Then her mother,
long-distance.  Twisting the numbers out, panicked
as if she were unlacing knots snugged to a bag of stones
dragging her under.  No one home.
She asked me to hold her but I could not.

I'd enlisted horseback, trailing hounds
trained on the scent of dead flesh.
And thought I felt nothing.  A lark.
Till the dogs yelped and licked their chops
near a trailer park of scattered mobile homes
trashed in the creek bed.

I'd been handed a flashlight, elected to squeeze
into the wreck as flies raged past.  The pocked
linoleum of the kitchen slanted, slicked with silt,
drew me inward on my knees, toppled me
off balance. One hand stabbed into the mud.

I jerked back, dropped the light.  Sat sick
in that tomb.  Just a boy.  Who later that night
couldn't touch his girlfriend.  Lay motionless
© Lowell Jaeger, Many Voices Press
on his sleeping bag, listening
as she dialed for escape.


Lord, Look Down, Please

This third-grade wallflower
slumping in her seat
surrounded by cold fog
even on a sunny day.  Even
as her classmates gladly cut
and paste and color their worksheets.

She sits nursing a bad case
of everlasting bed-head — hair frizzed
as if she’d stuck her tongue
in a power outlet — licking her fingers
and palms to press and glue
her unruly locks in place,

which only looks worse,
accentuates her dumbfounded
misshapen brow,  her twisted
nose and no chin.  Her thick glasses
magnifying wild-eyed confusion. 

Top this list of odds avalanched against her
with the art teacher’s Mother’s Day craft —
each child’s shadow traced
in the spotlight
for a silhouette portrait
snipped from black construction paper.

The finished projects look like faces
a mother could love.  Except hers,
wouldn’t you know.  Big mistake,
having traced her with glasses
intact, her profile disfigured.  Kids
laugh and say she looks like a pig.


Summoned

I’ve been summoned
to meet with The Dean.
Eight sharp, his message said.
I arrive at seven
to prepare.  Spy
his Buick already parked.
Bad sign.

Can't stomach his habit
after every statement asking,
Do you hear?

I list committees I've attended. 
Dates of sick-leave.
Anything I've published
last three years. 

Review in my head
my defense for every possible
crime.  A student’s right
to free speech.
And mine.

His probable responses.
Finger pointing.
Judge and gavel.
Do you hear?

I force three deep breaths
in the restroom. 
Turn out the lights.
Close my eyes.
Smell disinfectant.

Hear footsteps echo.
Pipes in the walls, the water's drip.
A clock ticking.

Down the hall, a door
squeaks open.
Nearer by
another slams closed.



Miss Rorschach

She sits across from my office in the dark
empty classroom, stares at the fading light
on the horizon, sunset on a gray day,
a glimpse of gold before the black of night.

She’s resting her chin in her arms.  From my poor
vantage point, her face is blank though rich
with possibility.  A puzzle to me.  The more
she darkens like an inkblot, the less

I see.  Heels, hair, all silhouette.  Woman
who sits six paces across the hall.  I’m a man.
She’s part of who I am, looking back at me.
My lonely shadow.  But who is she?

~Lowell Jaeger


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