I have nothing to say. I am a recording machine, / a listening device.
I wrote “Confession” in the winter, recently after I had moved from Iowa City to Cambridge, MA. I’d moved from a rambling attic apartment with secret unfinished rooms to a partially furnished attic studio with a shared bathroom down the hall. My writing space was the floor. The convent of San Marco in Florence, Italy contains small, individual cells, like a beehive, that monks would use for devotion. Each cell is bare save for a simple fresco by the early Renaissance master Fra Angelico. My room in Cambridge hardly had a monastic aesthetic; books and clothes were piled in geological strata. Every so often, I would find a bee feebly circling around the lampshade, or a couple of dead bees in the windowsill. “Confession” came to me after receiving a phone call very early in the morning from a friend whom I hadn’t spoken with in months. I don’t know why she chose that morning. She was in a difficult relationship, unhappy, isolated, yet surrounded by a city; I was feeling adrift and lonely, uncertain …
Let us eat nothing but darkness / refuse our stale orbit / and walk only in sleep
We all quit dancing / To look.
The eye leans out to those white wings / Molded in flight like waxen things / To slender stems.
the city’s not so big, the / hills surround it.
In the night I strike a match, / one little glory, a flame / the world surrounds
It may be that the only thing these two poems have in common is that they were written by the same poet, and that they were published in Poetry Northwest, one a quarter century or so ago, the other quite recently. “Dust” was written about the time I was, you might say, entering into the possibilities of rhyme (it was accepted, as many were in those days, by David Wagoner, to whom I offer my thanks); “Hanging Laundry On a Windy Day in Assisi,” was written in Italy this past May, and it suggests that those possibilities have stayed with me. Rilke said, “Rhyme is a goddess of secret and ancient coincidences,” and that strikes me as one of the finest things anyone’s ever said about a poetic technique. Among other things, the first is about getting very dirty; the other is about the joy of clean laundry. But both are very much about the places in which they occur. I am, it has been pointed out, a “poet of place.” That’s not something I …
Leaving Mother Waiting for Father The evening went on; I got very old. She kept telling me it didn’t matter. The real man would come back soon. We waited. We had alarms fixed, vases of white and purple flowers ready to thrust on him should he. We had to sell the place in a hurry; walked downtown holding hands. She had a yard of blue material in her pocket: I remember that so well! She fell asleep and a smile began to blister her old mouth. I propped her against an old hotel and left without any noise. — James Tate (1943-2015) was the author of more than twenty collections of poetry, including the Pulitzer-Prize winning Selected Poems. His Dome of the Hidden Pavilion will be published in August 2015 by Ecco Press. — “Leaving Mother Waiting for Father” was published in the Summer 1968 issue of Poetry Northwest, and appeared in The Oblivion Ha-Ha. — photo credit: Peace Lily BW | (license)
Periodically, we’ll take a tour of the Poetry Northwest archives, spotlighting vital poems and writers from the magazine’s fifty-plus year history. Previous entries in the series can be found here. This edition features early work from the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Stephen Dunn, a frequent contributor to the magazine during the seventies, eighties and beyond. Here are five poems as they originally appeared in Poetry Northwest, with the poet’s reflection on what these pieces mean to him now. Before I begin to say anything about these poems that appeared in Poetry Northwest many years ago, a few dating back to 1969, I want to thank David Wagoner for recognizing a quality in them worthy of publication. He was the first editor of an important magazine to regularly publish my work, and therefore helped develop in me a confidence that I might have a little something on which to build. It may not be possible, but I’m going to try to look at these poems as if they were written by someone else. “Affirmation” is amazingly …