Features, Poems

Tod Marshall: “Never One to Paint Space, I Paint Air “


Bugle is a book about extraction, containment, and transformation.  The epigraph to the collection is from Rimbaud:  “If brass wakes up a bugle, it is not its fault.”  Many of the poems explore extraction and containment gone wrong.  From Butte’s huge copper mine (mix with zinc for brass) to memory’s flawed renderings (raw matter for the imagination), transformations and abuses occur and recur over the course of the book. In this particular poem, I was thinking about a few things:  Fairfield Porter’s insistence upon representational painting during an era that preached abstraction, the frequent suicidal leaps off of the beautiful old bridge near my house, and, I suppose, the metaphysics of a soul somehow being contained in a body.  Somehow, old acquaintances entered the poem, and the soul transformed into Kirk’s being brutally outed.  Throughout drafts, the poem itself clung to a simple sonnet shape—another version of containment in Bugle.  Kevin suggested a few smart edits of the poem that led to the elimination of one of the rhymes in the sestet—another way to show that containers always fail.  The title is from Porter, a distinction that I find mysterious and haunting. (Marshall)


Never One to Paint Space, I Paint Air

Another jumper broken by the ground
under the River Bridge. Before the fall,
did he consider water, choose to land
on hard rock (intestines spread in bright coils
of purple-red and pink) or just fuck-up
and miss the chance-for-survival-splash
of the deep back eddy where buoyant washed-up
stuff like plastic bottles and traffic cones mosh
for days? In the late eighties, Robby Brown
told us he’d rather die than rot inside-
out of leukemia. We passed around
a pipe, nodded, nervously laughed. Chemo.
He lived. Kirk said, “Carpe fuckin-diem, I’d jump,”
and sure enough, outed by his mom, he did.




Marshall,TodTod Marshall was born in Buffalo, NY.  His first collection of poetry, Dare Say, was the 2002 winner of the University of Georgia’s Contemporary Poetry Series. He has also published a collection of his interviews with contemporary poets, Range of the Possible (EWU Press, 2002), and an accompanying anthology of the interviewed poets’ work, Range of Voices (2005).  These volumes include interviews with and poems by Robert Hass, Li-Young Lee, Robert Wrigley, Brenda Hillman, Dorianne Laux, Kim Addonizio, Ed Hirsch, Dave Smith, and others. In 2005, he was awarded a Washington Artists Trust Fellowship. His second collection of poetry, The Tangled Line (Canarium Books, 2009) was a finalist for the Washinton State Book Award.  His most recent collection, Bugle, will be published by Canarium in fall of 2014.  He lives in Spokane, Washington, and teaches creative writing and literature at Gonzaga University.  More at www.todmarshall.com.