by Dan Bellm, Molly Fisk & Forrest Hamer
New California Voices Series, Book 2
Available for $9.95 from your local bookstore or
About the Authors
Dan Bellm lives in San Francisco, CA. His collection of poems, One Hand on the Wheel, launched the New California Poetry Series from roundhouse Press, Berkeley, in April 1999. A second collection, Buried Treasure, which won the 1995 Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, was published in September 1999 by Cleveland State university Press as winner of its annual Poetry Center Prize. He received a 1997 poetry fellowship from the California Arts Council.
Molly Fisk lives in Nevada City, CA. Her hand letterpress book Salt Water Poems came out in 1994, as well as Surrender, a spoken word audiotape. In 2000 her collection Listening to Winter, book #4 in the California Poetry Series, was published by Roundhouse Press. She teaches creative writing privately and with U.C. Davis Extension and California Poets in the Schools, and has received poetry fellowships from the Marin County Arts Council (1995), the California Arts Council (1997), and the National Endowment for the Arts (1999).
Forest Hamer lives in Oakland, CA. His first book of poems, Call & Response, published by Alice James Brooks in 1995, won the Beatrice Hawley Award and was a semifinalist for the Poet’s Prize. His second book, Middle Ear, was #7 in the California Poetry Series in 2000. He is a psychologist, a candidate psychoanalyst, and a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley.
A baby is singing in the morning
before anyone is up in the house
Before he has decided
which of all the languages he will speak
he is trying the sounds of his voice
in the first light
He hears a man
come up the street collecting bottles
just ahead of the garbage truck
to come throw them away
He hears the shriek of glass
It is like the vessels of Creation
breaking in God’s hands
He hears the wind around the house
and in the wind
every word he will ever say
and what will stay unsaid
and stops to listen to silence
and sings to it
the way the body addresses the soul
lending it shape
lending it comfort and sorrow
The body wants to be useful
and the soul is open so wide
This is the way we awaken
He remembers he is alone
and cries for us.
Now, and then, I regret the years I lived without
poetry, not writing toward it,
the years not only before, when I was
a child, but later, when I then knew
writing and left it anyway, because
I was afraid, because I had nothing
yet to say. It’s like the way
my mother talked of her years without God, the service
and its blessings ever lost. But God, ever
patient, wondering when she’d come to find herself
what she’d have to say.
A cold night, the power out, and February,
where they are slowly chipping calico
layers of wallpaper off a kitchen ceiling,
balanced on wooden ladders they dragged
from under a tarp in the barn. Votives on the counter,
and in the next room their first necessary fire.
She has already taught him to make cinnamon
toast, leave room for the milk in her tea.
He has taught her he won’t leave.
Together, they have painted the living room
black-eyed Susan yellow, planted lilacs.
They don’t know how hard it will be.
The first layer of paper’s crisp black and red
is as painful, in the old house, as the place
where the scraper slices his palm. Blood
wells to match the ceiling, a few bright
drops splash, almost lost on the spattered
linoleum floor. She hunts up a bandaid,
abandoned in the medicine chest, and wipes the cut
clean with an old towel. They have made their vows.
Candlelight spins the shadows of their hands
across rain-slick window glass. They scrape
until their shoulders ache, through decades
of wall paper, past all their previous lovers,
the college blue books, diaphragms and operettas,
past the damp palms of high school dances,
the caught frogs and molding petri dishes of third
grade, to the smiles of their exhausted mothers
on the different days they were born,
each successive layer softer-toned and sweeter
than the last, until they reach gold roses
on pale green stems, and stop to admire them.
This chorale book, with its three substantive and distinctive voices, is rich proof of the strength and variety of current poetry, and of poetry-born friendship as well. Drawn from widely differing lives which nonetheless come together in a web of shared concerns, these poems range from the elegiac to the unnerving to the celebratory. Page after page offers the thrilling lift of revelation-imaginative, sensuous and precise encounters with the real terrain of the human. This is a truly fine collection.
– Jane Hirshfield