Taking Him Home; At Akumal, Mexico: Ira Speaks; The Judder: Ira Speaks
By: Richard Widerkehr
Taking Him Home
- after reading Lynn Emanuel’s Then Suddenly
Stay put, you call to your dead father. You like the river’s
insinuations; not so much his snow, except the way
it hasn’t turned to freezing rain. As for the radio tower
that can’t amp up your slightly-crackly voice,
it isn’t boring being a voice, but you dislike scenery,
and nothing can make you describe that train ride,
his plummy-gray casket. There’s this fact, your father.
Please, don’t get up, you beg him. He brushes
the sleeve of your coat, almost touches your wrist.
I’m cold, he says. Oh-oh, will you need a diction
of sobs and whistle stops to tell this? His footsteps
in the snow, your footsteps, that black stream
in his field. No, your coat isn’t broadcloth;
it’s worsted, you say. Worsted, what a word.
Do you give him the coat? All the doors
are open, he says, no endings that I know.
His trees almost unnoticed.
At Akumal, Mexico: Ira Speaks
This green iguana guards its crevice, claws
splayed in sand by the rock face. Basking, it leans
toward the sun, a god with no animal sorrows.
Thirsty, I stand in the heat,
inspecting the lizard’s blunt head and shoulders,
nearly one third its body.
Stripes of ash, green-gray, and black down its sides.
Strings of mist kiss the reef. Lime-green water.
When the iguana’s mate skitters out,
he displays no longing for bells,
pomegranates, lips with many mouths.
His hinged jaw juts up.
By the swinging arms of water,
he sips a beaker, the sun’s urn of sleep.
White clouds do almost nothing.
The Judder: Ira Speaks
- the judder is a ship’s silhouette seen through the distortion of turbulent air off water; androgen deprivation therapy is used by men with prostate cancer that recurs after surgery and radiation.
At Akumal, this black ferry in sun glare
almost wobbles on the horizon, and the judder
blurs, as if two sister ships had met. As kids
we asked questions like If you had to pick,
would you rather lose your arms or your legs?
Now my oncologist says, You may be able
to have sex. Emotions? More like your wife’s.
Evenings by the fireplace, our tiger-striped
cat on my lap. How the root of the Hebrew
word for sacrifice, Korban, means to draw close.
Now this judder—two silhouettes not dissevered.
How the root of our word decision means cut.
Richard Widerkehr’s work has appeared in Rattle, Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, Crab Creek Review, and others. He earned his M.A. from Columbia University and won two Hopwood first prizes for poetry at the University of Michigan. His latest book of poems is In The Presence Of Absence (MoonPath Press). He reads poems for Shark Reef Review.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I started when I was 16 years old; I’m 74 now. Keeping going is one thing I’m glad I did, though there were some times I had to stop.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
No, not the very first poem. Our mother used to read us poems when I was a kid, and I loved that. At age 16, I read e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot, and Dylan Thomas. Thomas and Yeats were the two poets you could say I fell for big time, both so musical.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Gayle Kaune Patricia Hooper, Joe Stroud, Gary Copeland Lilley are some of my favorites now. In the past I read a lot of Roethke, James Wright, Whitman, Dickinson, and Shakespeare
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in
Often, I do free writes very fast, using pen and notebook; then I revise on my computer, and it’s a slow, almost lapidary process, setting stones in place, as I try to get tone, image, feeling, voice, and meaning to balance.
All three of my poems in this sample got revised a lot. Probably, “The Judder” was written the fastest. I wrote “Taking Him Home” in response to Lynn Emanuel’s book, “Then Suddenly.”
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?
Lately, I’ve been writing haiku sequences for fun, so I’m looking for that 5-7-5 pattern from the start. Most of my work is in free verse in stanzas, but I’ve also written sonnets. If you write a lot of poems in a certain form, you get fluent in it.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Write a lot and read a lot. I read classics when I was young, and I think that was good for me. It keeps you from getting too crazy over fads. You might also try writing in another genre; I’ve written some short stories and one novel. Sometimes, if you get stuck in one genre, you can switch to the other.
What is your editing process like?
Well, sometimes there’s a large-scale revision that involves putting things together that go together, cutting things that don’t. Sometimes I’ll put the poem in a different stanza form to help me see it differently. Then for me there’s usually this fine tuning, which is getting tone and voice and feeling right.
Several years ago, a poet friend suggested rewriting poems in prose that I was having trouble with. When I was focusing on the music, my poem often left out details the reader needed.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
Sometimes I know; sometimes I don’t. When you write in a form, you can know more easily because the poem can seem to click into place.