February 2, 2016

Five Poems And CNF Flash By Arthur Powers: "Frontier", "Harvard Yard", "Men Outlined Against The Sun", "New York City, 1928", "Wisconsin Pastoral", "The Lesson"

Arthur Powers is from Illinois.  In 1969 he went to Brazil as a Peace Corps Volunteer and lived most of his adult life there.  From 1985 to 1992 he and his wife lived in the Brazilian Amazon, working with subsistence farmers in a region of violent land conflicts; through his experience with the farmers, Arthur came to appreciate more deeply his own Midwestern heritage.

Arthur received a Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation and numerous other writing awards.  He is author of two books of fiction and of a poetry chapbook, Edgewater.  His poetry has appeared in many anthologies & magazines, including America, Chicago Tribune Magazine, Christianity & Literature, Hiram Poetry Review, Kansas Quarterly, Main Street Rag, Roanoke Review, South Carolina Review, & Southern Poetry Review. www.arthurpowers.com








Frontier


(The Brazilian plains)


The rains have ended.
The flood deaths are over.
For three days the sun has shone
over the dusty town.
Suddenly a black storm
sweeps out of the south,
riding the winds of the blue sky.


Out of the South, suddenly,
Quantrill's men came riding -
killing her father
three days after the war.



Harvard Yard
Near Sunset After A Spring Rain

(for my sister Anita)


I


Copper sunlight
coming through the west gate
deepens the red brick.
The old building's
green copper roof
gleams against the gray sky.


II


One afternoon in Illinois
we stood on the front porch
waiting for the rain to stop.
There are things I want to hold forever,
the late sun warming your face,
the green of grass after the rain.




Men Outlined Against The Sun


This morning as I drove east
sun blinded the windshield.
I stopped to let three men


cross the road.  They moved slowly,
silhouetted against the sky,
while I tried to remember


where it was, before this day,
I saw three men, lean and dangerous,
outlined against the sun.



New York City, 1928


"Look, Chris," he said.  "Look at the walls."
His voice was excited.  Concrete angles,
one after the other; granite mountains
as far as she could see.
               "And windows,
look at the windows," shining in daylight,
and the shadows of one giant building
on another, sharp against the sun.
"All those people," he whispered.  "All
those people."


         She took his hand, sharing
his excitement, and looked out the window
at the buildings.  Oh, she felt it too --
the electric touch of a million minds,
a million lives, a million possibilities
in which they were one, alive, electric
too,
    out of the quiet Nebraska town,
bringing America with them, the old ways
modified - new, liberal, common sense -
thinking they could keep the old good essence
without the old hard rules, so exalted,
so ready for life.  So young.



Wisconsin Pastoral


The moon small, the wind stretched tight
across the crying trees.
Against the old land, a scream,
frightening small creatures in the night.


A car moves in:  two arcs of white
sweep the barn wall.  Caught,
a dark figure freezes,
throwing up two arms against the light.


Silently, and from vast height,
a maple seed falls
twirling in the wind,
whispering its soft, erratic flight.

~Wisconsin Pastoral first appeared in Wisconsin Review 




The Lesson

    Chicago.  1931.  The depths of the Depression.
    My mother waits for the streetcar home from work.  She is nineteen, recently graduated from high school and a brief secretarial course, earning $32 a week as a secretary for a downtown law firm.  
    She isn’t aware of the young man standing near her until he faints.  Folds and falls to the ground.  A neatly dressed young man, pale, blond.  
    “Are you all right?”  She stoops beside him.
    “Dizzy,” he answers.
    “Are you sick?”
    Hungry.  He hasn’t eaten for days.  
    “Come on,” she says.  “My mother will feed you.”
    She gets him up and onto the next trolley, pays their fare, rides with him the half hour to Irving Park.  He is – except for his need – an unexceptional young man, not very interesting.  Not like the talented violinists and cellists who frequent her family home.  
    They reach the small house on Warwick Avenue.  Her mother, grandmother, and older sister are at home.  Her mother – my grandmother – understands immediately, takes the situation in hand, ushers the young man into the kitchen, to the kitchen table.  That same table serves many mornings as a counseling center, where neighborhood women come to share their problems with my grandmother.  
The young man is seated, fed, talked to, given information, provided with a small bag of extra food.  In an hour he has gone on his way.  
    Later that evening, my grandmother walks slowly upstairs.  She knocks on my mother’s door and enters.  My mother, happily ready for bed in her nightgown, is brushing her hair.  My grandmother sits on the edge of the bed, crosses her hands on her lap, and looks at this lovely, happy, innocent, golden-haired daughter.  All her life she has taught her to live as a Christian, to help others.  Now she is thinking how to tell her to never, ever do anything like this again.

~Arthur Powers
   

2 comments:

  1. For those just being introduced to Arthur's writing, I would recommend his book of short stories, A Hero for the People. Arthur Powers came to write stories only after he had written and published many poems about the times, places, and people that he had known in Brazil. I find in Arthur's stories the same kind of lapidary craftsmanship that characterizes his poetry. His narratives rise gracefully from landscape, characterization, and plot to a moment of understanding, insight, or wonder.

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  2. Arthur Powers' narrative poetry always carries an unexpected, but deeply recognizable punch. One walks away richer from the experience of reading his work.

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