By: Ed McManis
Sweeping Back the Thieves
Snow all night, caught the furnace
sleeping, our car with four
bald tires, your naked body
still outlined by summer’s bronze finger.
I wake after midnight
to the sound of mittens clapping,
cold as the dream where I kiss
my dead mother’s cheek and wake
in your arms weeping.
Hunched over coffee I witness
this new world, naïve as any explorer
who believes his footprint is first.
Cattle steam under the moon,
the frost in the wind whispers,
All miseries begin with flowers.
Each September drifts higher against our door.
On the porch railing a sparrow
crowned with frost hops twice,
blinks, flies. Silence rests in the wedge
where her tail brushes the snow.
In the morning we’ll thaw
against the red chill
of the frozen rooster’s cry.
I still leave the light on
for him even though he got fired
years ago; leave the white
box with its ornate blue
crest in the corner of the porch
where it rests like a happy
memory from a holiday
no longer celebrated,
its song muted.
Sometimes at night I wake
in the dead crease
between three and four
a.m., hear the wooden lid
thwack and I fall back asleep
to dream of that cold glass
quart bottle sweating,
slick in my hands, lift it
like a chunk of light against
the orange dawn, scare
the shadows back into the earth.
I wake alone, sit alone
at my breakfast nook,
sip my first cup of coffee
listen for the truck.
The Wounded King Takes a Knee
In this dream the house you’re lost
in is a metaphor for death or maybe
it’s work, one of your parents;
it’s hard to interpret signs
these days in the green rooms
of our brains.
Used to be cars were your ego,
ladders, decisions; slides, resolutions.
Any phallic image—your Id.
Symbols were predictable; dreams resolved.
Caves and shells? The girls longed
after in junior high, high school—
your college love by the crashing
waves, foamy tides, cliffs glinting with
lost in her own dreams, leaving
you for another woman who couldn’t
Becoming someone’s hero
is a dream, too.
One morning you’ll awake without
dreaming, that feeling of ethereal
emptiness, some ghost gone through
your pockets, your wedding rings
switched, children gone, options
reduced to one.
You’ll suddenly realize numbers
aren’t metaphors; metaphors,
a cheaper truth and truth, the bed
dreamed and re-dreamed, made,
unmade in this world and the next.
Ed McManis is a writer, editor, erstwhile Head of School, and father—not always in that order. His work has appeared in more than 50 publications, including The Blue Road Reader, California Quarterly, Cathexis, Narrative, etc. He, along with his wife, Linda, have published esteemed author Joanne Greenberg’s (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) latest novel, Jubilee Year. He has two grown sons and two granddaughters.Little known trivia fact: he holds the outdoor free-throw record at Camp Santa Maria: 67 in a row.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I started very young, mostly with song lyrics emulating the Beatles, Herman's Hermits, Dave Clark Five.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
We had these Childcraft volumes, one with poetry, verse. I got hooked on Edward Lear, limericks, the poem "Eletelephony" by Laura Elizabeth Richards. Then Alan Sherman, who was a great antidote to the heavy church verses which surrounded me.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Oh, so many favorites. Lists and lists and I want to invite them all to my party. Joe Hutchison (my mentor), Linda Lancione, Rita Kiefer, Yusuf Komunyakaa ( I had some poems in the same journal with him in the 80s); David Lehman, Marc Zegans, Yeats. I'm currently re-reading Charles Simic, Robert Bly. Favorite poems? Another long list: Edson's "Counting Sheep"; Kooser's "The Urine Specimen"; Logan's "Gray's Anatomy" Thomas' "Fern Hill".
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
My zones seem to be anytime & anywhere. Schedules don't work great for me. I like coffee shops, bookstores, patios, boring team meetings; places where I can sit on the edge & observe.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
I let the poem emerge. I think of Joanne Greenberg's direction for discerning the "type" of writing; novel, short story, or other. You get a package in the mail, and you're not sure if it's the birdhouse or the bicycle kit. Eventually you know when you discover you were building a birdhouse & it was a bicycle. Oops.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Yes. send me $19.95, cash, check.., but seriously.... Your voice, your quest; your time, your sweat equity. Rent feedback; you don't need to buy it. Sound like yourself.
What is your editing process like?
The last day of middle school. It's a series of chaotic meetings with the pages until one of us blinks.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
When it's time to go to bed. You can fiddle things to death. You'll get that warning when you start saying the same thing three different ways; you're trying to "gild the lily."