"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, March 1, 2015

Of dreams and Okies, a deep mapscape

I feel like I'm reading dreams when I thumb through "Streets as Elsewhere" by J.L. Jacobs, a new book out by Mongrel Empire Press.
Like dreams that you write down afterward and may not necessarily make conscious sense at first, a jumble of thoughts and images, these 56 poems in 74 pages will jar your traditional map of Oklahoma.
You have to read them more  than once as they captivate your imagination.
"History, story, thought, place, space, objects all woven together and meshing/messing with time," wrote publisher/poet  Jeanetta Calhoun Mish  when I asked her about the poetry and poet.
The cover is a photograph of her grandmother on an old map of far southeast Oklahoma, a woman who lived to be 100 and was a midwife, and who inhabits many of the poems.
"Ancient maps stir the coals of our memories, letting us see  from whence we came," writes Jacobs in an afterword.  The title and title poem travel those kinds of maps, a unique feminine view of life here.
Poet J.L. Jacobs
This is Oklahoma storytelling of a different sort, sometimes strange, sometimes mentioning dreams. They are the stories of people with rough-hewn lives shaped by Oklahoma's timber country. How else to explain poems like "A Theology of Soil," "Indian Head Applique," or "Of wash rooms"?
When I read a book of poetry, or anything else for that matter, my habit is to mark those lines that jump at me, that make me wonder at the language, that catch the spirit of the book.
One line, in the poem "Call it sky" caught my eye immediately, capturing the spirit of the book:
"This empty house listens to the landscape ."
Mish says Jacobs writes in an inward, lyrical style. I think that style transports me inside her head, as though I was looking at her dreams.
There is also lyricism that is Whitmanesque: From "Are there only avenues in the Holy Land?" for instance--
"(Far off among the trees a night fisherman wades upstream.)
He crosses under the moon   and sees
a girl standing by ferry rail."
Portions of other favorites:

"A stream of dead water and a silk hankerchief"
"Slow over stones.
to know your noise    as a moth beating a curtain.
You wrap yourself at night
until you happen to dream...."

"Small upon the Sill"
"I wanted strewn rooms.    A delicacy of words.
Doorway to follow the road. One by one....
"Rain against the sills
in liquid arrows   pierce
our many partings...."

"Of wash rooms"
To see your own gray hands wrapping...warping.  Light
veers under fingernails. She sensed a direction
of washrooms      years ago."

"Are we far to the forest?"
"Imagine where landscape begins.  Beyond deserted walls
faces behind chimneys...."

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