Thomas Mitchell was raised in New York and California,
but has lived in Oregon since 1980. He received his Masters
from California State University, Sacramento, where he studied
with the poet, Dennis Schmitz. He received an MFA from the
University of Montana, where he worked with Richard Hugo
and Madeline De Frees. His first collection of poems,
The Way Summer Ends, was published in 2016, followed by
his second book, Caribou, in 2018. Both are available for
purchase at http://www.losthorsepress.org His new collection,
Where We Arrive, is scheduled for release in 2020.
Thomas Mitchell’s poems have appeared in many journals,
including The New England Review, New Letters, Mirimar
Magazine and Valparaiso Poetry Review.
American poet, Joseph Millar describes Mitchell’s poems
as ‘fully alive to the moment, yet haunted throughout by
a dim nostalgia. I most admire their clear language and
close attention, in the tradition of Jim Harrison and
Some thoughts on these poems by Thomas Mitchell:
‘It can be difficult for many writers to talk about their own writing.
I think it was Delacroix who said, The one who knows the least about
the writing is the writer himself. I try to write about things that catch
my interest, and the things that hopefully the reader will find interesting
too. Things like relationships that are on the edge. There’s a natural
tension, an energy that helps to carry the poem, helps also with other
considerations like sound, pace, rhythm. Often, I have no idea where
the poem will lead me, and that’s helpful. The destination usually turns
out much better than if I planned it. I just need to take the time to listen
to my inner voice. That sounds easy, but for me it has taken lots of practice,
and also guidance from other more experienced poets.
This particular group of poems covers a lot of territory. Everything from
the theme of injustice at the U.S/Mexico border in ‘Little Birds’, to trying
to learn a lesson from my dogs on a moonlit night in ‘Taking the Long View’.
Above all I want each poem to speak to the reader in a way they know yet
have no knowledge of. I want them to be surprised, and to feel like someone
is talking to them.’
Previous Featured American Poets
Thomas Mitchell: Six Poems
IN THE SEASON OF THE WHITETAIL RUT
It’s the season of the whitetail rut,
somewhere between the hours
of summer’s heat
and autumn’s coolness.
I can almost hear the leaves
In their stillness, the stones
asleep on the trail,
and far off, geese in slow retreat
remind me how much
I am nourished by whatever
I read in yesterday’s newspaper
how three stags, their antlers
intertwined, battled near Leading Creek;
then one slid into a shallow pool
and the fate of all three was sealed,
spinning nose to nose, just beneath
the surface, suspended
by the lazy flow of the water
like a stringer of fish.
In my dreams I retrace
the shape of their hooves,
their ghost-like heartprints
in the mud …. and suddenly
there they are again in the tall grass
on the hillside, three magnificent stags
lifting their heads in disbelief,
as it is in their nature, before
they leap away.
JANUARY MORNING ON THE MESA
This morning, as the first clear sunlight
makes its way over the mesa,
I walk my dogs through the arroyo
where muted sandstone and empty space
meet in a convergence of beauty.
A mile away at Cathedral Rock,
hundreds of crows are floating,
rising upward in dark clouds.
The dogs are alarmed.
Sammy turns his head to the West,
then whimpers with concern.
Penny lifts herself upright
from the smooth rock, ears erect,
sniffing the cold air. I see the ancient
lineage of wolves in their eyes.
In half an hour we reach a canyon
where the steep slopes quickly climb
right into the open sky, the horizon
broken only by an uneven outline
of rim rock. A red tailed hawk screes
before snapping the branch
on a desert mesquite, then disappears
into the cosmos.
As we follow the riverbed’s scrawled
signature, over stained rock, striated veins,
hardscrabble, we are walking in unison
with the rhythm of our heartbeats,
almost like the relentless pulse
of moving water. The myriad stars
that will shine tonight, are still invisible,
but the moon looms large over the mountains
WHERE WE ARRIVE, KAUA’I
We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
– T. S. Eliot
How can you love a place without an Autumn …
where the temperature is always 82,
and the only semblance of change
rises and falls with each wave?
Almost imperceivable, a small soul
dances in the underbrush,
a tiny gecko springing across the lanai,
startling green in its exuberance.
Maka’i Kaua’i hemolele i ka malie
There, riding the gentle sea swells,
the mid morning paddlers
learning ‘to feel the canoe’,
or Kahola (the large whale),
listening to stories of the old ones
who knew that at night with only one star,
you could determine which way to sail.
Maka’i Kaua’i hemolele i ka malie
Sometimes, you can hear the ancient
voices, with their startling resonance,
drifting ever so gently with the wind.
They speak of the beginning,
the time before measured time,
when Kaua’i was born in a cataclysm
of steam and sea, when the hands of the gods
formed the island in their artistry; the sky
painted an expanse of diaphanous blue,
dabs of magenta in flowery swirls,
bursts of burnt umber, massive swaths
of bright green and ocher.
Maka’i Kaua’i hemolele i ka malie
They speak of the burial cave, the womb of nature,
a magical room where the dark tumbles down
and the dead placed in canoes to help them
on their search for that one star to guide them
across the black heavens.
Note: The refrain, Maka’i, Kaua’i, hemolele i ka malie, is loosely interpreted in the Hawaiian language to mean ‘Beautiful Kaua’i, peaceful in the calm.’ The term aumakua means ancestral spirit or personal god.
It is a terrible, an inexorable law that
one cannot deny the humanity of
another without diminishing one’s
own: in the face of one’s victim, one s
ees oneself. – James Baldwin
The same stars as yesterday are still unravelling,
blinking their platinum and copper signals
through the mileu of time.
As the shadow from the chainlink fencing
gathers around them, the children are restless
under their silver blankets. A few still awake,
sob in muted tones.
Jose Alejandro Escobar raises the metal cup
to Consuela’s lips, and remembers the Rio Grande,
the startling water cascading over the rocks,
his father’s words disappearing, then returning
in a bubbly ebb…”Callanse, chavos, que viene
It was because of his dawdling that they came;
the border patrol in their astonishing black
If it were’nt for those damnable starlings
and their incessant chatter, their dappled
wings sparkling in the sunlight.
He knew he could capture them in the pages of his sketchbook.
The starlings were scruffed and tawny
as they shook their heads at the river’s edge.
So different from the birds back home in Guatemala;
the brilliant quetzal robed in turquoise,
the keel billed toucans dipping in the Las Sirenas
fountain in Antiqua, the pink headed warblers
darting in and out of the brilliant Bougainvillea
in the same plaza where even now the Cartel
and roving gangs spray their unmistakable taggings
of red and black.
At the border crossing in Juarez, they were told
there was no more room. His mother lowered her eyes,
and his father admonished Jose, ‘Never let go
of your sister’s tiny hand.’
Now, as the early light begins
to illuminate the cage, he holds Consuela
in his arms, closes his eyes, and again
they are following the migrant trail
that snakes across the desert. He’s wearing
a bandana tucked under his ballcap
to protect his face and neck
from the scorching sun.
His flimsy sneakers are no match
for the thorny cholla pods
that easily pierce foam-rubber soles,
while ahead he can see the clump
of paloverde trees providing some rare shade,
and the comforting sound of his mother’s
Note: In stanza 3, the Spanish means: ‘ Be quiet, guys; the border patrol is coming.
ICE HARVESTING ON THE ST LAWRENCE
My grandfather was a carpenter,
and with his own hands
he built a house on Long Island,
a Dutch Colonial with 4 gables.
At night he would read me passages
from three huge green volumes,
The Voyages of the Jeanette,
pointing at charts and photographs
of the expedition’s tall ships,
as snow accumulated on the edges
of the windows, and he remembered
being a boy, cutting the ice
long before daylight,
lifting ice slabs out of the river
onto sleds drawn by horses,
their breath white as the morning,
then hauling them into town
to be loaded into the ice house,
plummeting down a series of wooden slides,
bumping and groaning.
He would say, ‘You had these tongs
and you had to be strong and tough
when you grabbed the cakes of ice.
Each one weighed at least 500 lbs.
A little guy like me, hell, the cake
would throw me around.’
I think about him
whenever I open his lemonwood box
filled with soft pencils, geometric tools,
and every Spring,
when the tall ships arrive in Coos Bay;
their white sails so much taller
than the white-capped waves
pitching on the blue-green sea.
TAKING THE LONG VIEW
Now, while you are asleep, I’m awake
on the back deck watching the moon’s pale luster,
the pines casting their shadows on the Cascades.
I simply want to drift to the edges of night,
not knowing or remembering my name, not wishing
to be seen or unseen, alive only to the movement
of an itinerant owl gliding across the field,
the acrid scent of smoldering leaves. I’ve been told
that I shouldn’t stay up so late leaning back
in my rattan chair, lighting another cigarette,
petting the dogs. Penny stretches along
the cedar planks. Sam turns his face upward
toward the kitchen window’s glow, then eases back
into himself. How many times have I studied them
wishing I could forget myself and understand
the beauty of their existence, take the day in stride,
take the long view? When I least expect it,
a coyote howls in pure delight over the hills,
a sudden gasp of wind pulls from the South,
brushing across the slender line of trees
that follow the river.