My hands stained by bloodroots deep in April. The red
coat moss calling to the lungs of the downed maple. Asking
the question starting with what I hope to be a controlled
burn, risking only the smallest answer in the mystery
of bronze, in the bitter taste of copper. Somewhere deep
down here rest bones; before the glaciers were the dinosaurs,
before them the single-celled organisms that began the long march
of replication. This is time called back. Site white out.
This is the place where months ago I saw the slimed eggs of frogs,
but now winter has rewritten everything deep white. Roots are
inaccessible, trapped in frozen earth. I barter with ice. Spring
is accessible only by memory, and so often I forget the bite
of green. The midmorning thaw, the coming of the blackbirds,
the weight of the bobolink’s claws clenched on the sideways rope
of the long grass. The wind waiting on the tongue: a crimp, a murmur, a ruse.
This yellow-rumped warbler, she speaks swan.
These are the only visitors. The ones who come
after the trumpets. The ones who say they can teach
swans the wing flap, the air, the migration route
lost for some reason to deep memory, or perhaps they
are just too curious about clouds to follow
the deep migration routes. Perhaps they hear
the whispers of some other sort of routing,
one that spells doom and the end of their line.
But, nonetheless, loud and insistent.
Nonetheless, calls to them. Who else would follow
the airplane dressed as Mother Trumpeter? Who else
would mistake feathers for silicon and steel? Who else would
read the hieroglyphs of migration as stagnant? There is
not much company here; only the cows with their wooden
shoes. Only me, with my fixed labors. Me, with my deviled heart.
J.R. Toriseva’s “Dandelion Rites” was chosen for the anthology Days I Moved Through Ordinary Sound, published by City Lights. Her work has also appeared in or is forthcoming from The Cincinnati Review, Descant, Fulcrum, 14 Hills, Nimrod, The Adirondack Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, Soundings East, Radar Poetry, JACKET, and others. She has been awarded a waiter scholarship to Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Mary Merritt Henry Prize in Poetry. Currently in the English department at SUNY-GCC, she has also taught for California Poets in the Schools, San Francisco WritersCorps, and Literary Arts of Portland, OR, and Mills College.
Q: What is your approach to getting “unstuck” on a poem.
A: When writing the lines to talk to me and talk with each other. When like calls to like the poem shows its form. This may take an hour, or this may take a year. Waiting is an important part of writing for me, as is listening. If the poem is one I’ve developing from a thought, rather than something I’m hearing, I’ll approach it through further exploration. Sometimes I’ll write more, just to see what happens; other times I’ll draw. Sketching out a poem allows me to see the lines interacting visually with each other.
Q: If you were to choose an artist–from any period–to paint your landscapes, who would that be, and why?
A: Remedios Varo’s sublime mix of detail and myth intrigues me. Her ability to capture an inner terrain and concretely impose that on the outer landscape is apt magic.
Q: Who or what are you reading now?
A: “The Gorgeous Nothings” reveals envelopes that Emily Dickinson wrote poems on. They have made me more sensitive to what it actually is that we write on. So, surfaces intrigue me, as well as locations of writing. As a child, I mostly wrote in a shallow lip of the woods, sitting on the mossy surface of a fallen oak, surrounded by Norway pines, hidden by maples because writing was not a sanctioned activity for the household. Now, I don’t have to escape to the protection of the forest, so I mostly write sitting inside. The question of where people write and what they write on is one I’ll be exploring.
Q: Some might say that the time of nature poetry had ended–your poems celebrate the natural world, but there is steel in their endings. How does this contemporary poetry with the “deviled heart” find new inspiration in the natural world?
A: Sometimes we write out our outer landscapes, sometimes our inner ones, when all the while our world is perhaps writing on us. We all are surfaces. Nature poetry has not ended because the human race has not ended. Despite past transgressions, nature is still hosting us, as a species. Connecting to the natural world is paramount for us as artists, as survivors, as humans. Like all relationships, our relationship with nature evolves, continually transforming itself (and ourselves). Whether ignored or explored, we are a part of nature; it is a relationship we ignore at our own peril.