"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Red dirt, blood, titles and words

There are two new books out by Oklahoma poets that will stir your blood and brains, but in different ways. The common ground is Oklahoma and  pain.

"Subterranean Red" by Kathleen Johnson combines some old black and white photos and stories of Oklahoma people and the landscape; and "Red Fields" by Jason Poudrier of Rush Springs, a young Iraqi war vet now in Lawton, links Oklahoma and the war.

Both are recently published by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish of Mongrel Empire Press http://www.mongrelempire.org .

Johnson, an Oklahoma Cherokee-Scot-Irish, lives in Santa Fe. The book is all Oklahoma, from its section on "Mixed Blood Memories" to stories from the "Cimarron Breaks." You're traveling into deep Oklahoma in these pages.

From "The Apothecary of Minerva Best: "I know home.
It is as red a place, I remember
... .
"So I find solace in sunsets,
dying embers of a fire,
the mud beneath my feet."

Another, "Three Generations of Cherokee Women: A Portrait," is biographical beside an old photo of the author, her mother and grandmother. Choice lines:
"...But her hands look like
they've wrung a thousand chicken necks;... ."
"...My mother, as always, tries
to look pretty--and succeeds, as always,
though squinting into Oklahoma sun."

From "Spring Pilgrimage to Tahlequah":
"...I listen hard  for
stories never told.
All I hear is
 thunder."

From "Dust Bowl Diary" comes my favorite image, even before seeing Ken Burns' documentary this weekend:
"...After a while, everything
seems the color of vermin,
the color of moths--
dirty wash pinned to the clothesline,
... .
This spring, no lilacs;
no luster left in Mother's eyes."

This is a book for Okie travelers seeking the Okie spirit, including poems on the Freedom, Oklahoma rodeo; Alabaster Caverns, Tornado warning: and movement into the city, Yukon and Warr Acres.

And perhaps the most haunting is "FFA Jacket," about her father, intensely personal and painful, concludes with these lines about the onetime national FFA president:
"...Dad standing in the middle of it all,
looking as he always has,
so utterly alone."

That ought to hook you to get the book.

 A red fedora and attitude

I can't get away from the Dust Bowl, and we can't escape either. I heard this next author   read at the First Sunday Poetry Reading at Beans and Leaves Coffee shop http://www.facebook.com/BeansandLeaves April 1, thanks to fireball and pistol Dorothy Alexander--a poet with a red fedora and attitude.  Alexander's books of poetry include "The Dust Bowl Revisited," "Borrowed Dust," and "Rough Drafts," and her most recent poetry book, "Lessons From an Oklahoma Girlhood". http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=250972279998 

Passion and pain
Poudrier's writes about a different dust bowl--Iraq, and his poetry comes in three parts, "Post Theater","While We We Waiting" and "Welcome to Iraq." Some sound routine, like "Fort Sill's New Housing Division," and "Black Angus Watermelon," which proves you can write poetry about anything if you have talent and passion, and he does. PTSD saturates the book like Oklahoma humidity. Included are black and white snapshots from Iraq.

From the poem about watermelons:
"The flies cover the bodies
on the Iraqi fields like the backs of black Angus,
but their muscles never jerk,...."

From "Red Fields":
"My feet sink
into the Barnesstilled soil
of my father-in-law's
Oklahoma land
reminding me of times
before I met his daughter
when I drove along
in a tank convoy
towards Bagdad
at the same pace as a tractor
over an unplowed field."

Others are more haunting, like "A Corpse Walked into the Bus Station Today."
"His arms swung his clenched fists
with purpose as he marched in,
stomping his left, dragging his right,
surrounded by ash.
He hadn't been dead long;"

One of my favorite phrases is  from "Convoy": "At ten miles an hour on a beach with no ocean...."

He also shows the human cost of war on the civilians, from "Iraqis":
"No,
they are not terrorists.
They stare at our convoy,
with food,
without home,
with hollow,
instinctual,
sand-dulled
eyes."

This is a courageous, disturbing book, telling stories that need to be told for Oklahomans and Americans and Iraqis. It should gather national attention, for showing the truth of war in its toll on those involved.

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