The High Window’s Featured American Poet, Winter 2020: Ken Craft

Ken Craft ‘s poems have appeared in The Writer’s Almanac, Pedestal Magazine, South Florida Poetry Journal, Spillway, Slant, and numerous other journals and e-zines. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Lost Sherpa of Happiness (Kelsay Books, 2017) and The Indifferent World (Future Cycle Press, 2016). His third collection, Reincarnation & Other Stimulants, is scheduled for release in 2021. His blog, ‘Updates on a Free-Verse Life,’ can be found at kencraftpoetry.wordpress.com.

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‘Though I taught poetry for years as an English teacher, I didn’t start writing it until I was in my 50s. The inspiration came chiefly from nature – a typical source, considering its historical importance to Chinese and Japanese poets as well as to poets like Robert Frost, Jim Harrison, Mary Oliver, Emily Dickinson, and William Wordsworth, to name a few. Still, I feel that nature poems are somewhat out of fashion these days, giving way to social, cultural, and political themes.

Ideas for poetry pop up at odd times. Most of my poems come from the commonplace. For instance, I’ve recently written about afternoon naps, Epsom baths, my wife’s fascination with Jane Austen films out of Britain. I also find inspiration while reading other poets. Ideas branch off of ideas that way. The mind constantly craves variations on a theme. The prophet in Ecclesiastes correctly states that there is nothing new under the sun, but he forgets everything that’s old. That is, all of our ideas are new angles into the familiar, ones that must be in some ways personal to the writer and in some ways relatable to the reader.

I am chiefly a morning writer. As Ben Franklin didn’t say: ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, damn poor, and a poet.’ Conditions are ideal because my wife and, when they were still home, my children, are all night owls who sleep in. This leaves me in the uncontested role of early bird. In that sense, the worm I hope to get looks suspiciously like a Muse ready to cooperate.

Revising, however, I can do any time of the day. I understand some writers hate to revise, but I love to tinker with words. Sleep. Wake up. Wordsmith some more. Amazingly, poems can change overnight, even though their words are in the same order you left them the day before.

That’s the fascinating thing about revision. Just when you think you’re done, you’re not. It may be that you never are, even after going to print. In that sense, poetry mimics life. Like each of us, poems are eternally restless. They yearn to be better. They are endless works in progress.’

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Previous Featured American Poets

THW19: September 5, 2020  THW18:May 4, 2020   THW17: March 7, 2020   THW16: December 4, 2019  THW15: September 5, 2019   THW14:June 3, 2019   THW13: March 6, 2019  THW12: December 10, 2018  THW11:September 5, 2018  THW10: May 21, 2018  THW9: March 7, 2018 THW 8: December 6, 2017  THW 7: September 10, 2017   THW6:  June 3, 2017    THW5: March 7, 2017 THW4:  December 6, 2016   THW3: September 1, 2016 THW2:  June 1, 2016  THW1: March 1, 2016

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Ken Craft: Seven Poems

PROVIDE, PROVIDE

Clem buttresses that old house
with bales of hay against the foundation,
rivets metal roofing over buckled
tar paper, and feeds his splitter, revealing
the striated blond bellies of halved maple
logs and spewing the fine dust of sweet
wood into his khaki-confettied hair.
As if he sat at Job’s knee as a child,
that old man stacks his wood into a cord,
builds a square meal for his winter stove,
and doesn’t glance up once at the leaden
bottoms of November’s indifferent clouds.

BARNSTORMING THE UNIVERSE

The big barn must have landed
overnight, the jolt of its descent
crippling one side so the whole
structure leans south. The white
paint, curly from reentry, looks
foolish as a washed cat.
The roof, too, shows evidence
of atmospheric stress, the mottled
landscape of its green top—tar
paper from missing shingles
probably scattered from Pittsburgh
to Poughkeepsie—having the look
of some moody old bass lurking
in the shallows, scales flaked
and grated at the speed of light.
Incredibly, atop the cupola, a rusted
and outraged weathercock still claws
the ridge. His wattle and comb hang
sideways, one eye searching for
intergalactic beetles, black-backed
fugitives from Andromeda or the
Crab Nebula. A sliding door is ajar,
exhaling the stench of stardust,
of Saturnine ring particulate, of dead
Martians matted on rotted hay.
In the side window, a single shard
of glass clings to the sash. If only
the barn could speak of the yawning
silences, of the teeming nothingness
that peered inside as it hurtled
its way home to this Maine field.

SIMPLICITY

When you’re broken,
find your Henry David
and simplify. Reach
back, grasp your younger
hand, squeeze and hold
until your palms’
warmth mingles.
Together, walk the woods,
smell distant rain
as it rides westerlies
bareback and brazen.

Forget time. Keep going
through yellow birch and red
maple till you discover
an unmapped pond, sit on
a shoreline boulder,
feel the chill itch
permeate your skin.

Follow the exhaling water
rings when a smallmouth
kisses the surface simply
because it exists, waiting
to be marred with life.

Even fish sense there is
another side, near yet far,
alluring yet fatal,
with many years
to gasp and gulp
at the gilled wonder
of it all.

WHEN BABCIA CAUGHT HER BREATH

The first summer we owned the camp,
we brought my grandmother,
who wore the same one-piece floral bathing suit
each day. I said no, but she took the broom
outside, swatted webs
from the clapboards, tried to reach the eaves.
“Babcia, please! Come by the water,”
but she bent near the foundation blocks and posts,
pinching and pulling weed heads between rough
peasant fingers, the strong lake breeze
blowing her white hairs, mad dance
of dandelion fluff holding on.
Unbending herself slowly, she swore
in Polish, shuffled to the wood’s edge, tossed
ripped roots on Canada Mayflower,
Indian pipe, a Pink Lady’s Slipper.
“Come, now,” I said. She finally sat in the Adirondack
beside me, her tanned, bony chest
rising and falling, the sweetness of breath.
Silent, she stared at this lake before her. And me, I inhaled
its strange newness in her name: The waves
against rip-rap. The wild mint smell. The nuthatches
scribing arcs about pine-bark.
And, on the water, whitecaps drunk with the passing.
She took this in and more,
then said, simply, “I can’t believe
it’s almost over.”

HEMINGWAY FISHING

Chased to Idaho by fame and paranoia,
Hemingway sips the slow intoxications.
He dreams first and always
the unheated flat, wife Hadley
breathing contrapuntal cold
with boy Bumby. The cat, F. Puss,
watching Hemingway’s shadow
creased and swallowed by the door.

In the dream, it is Paris again. Hunger again.
Bone of discipline and puddles
between cobblestones.
Smoke over mansards. Coffee. The warmth
of café braziers and whispered French.

And in the writer’s dream, Michigan.
Fox River and the current of youth’s flow.
Its lovely lies. A knife-sharpened pencil scratching
Moleskine lines so the water can branch
and eddy and brood over a deep hole
where cedar and birch scatter shade.

On the surface of the pool, a trout halo
radiates until its curves
reach the river’s heart where Hemingway,
in his father’s waders, stands.
Here the sound of line and impaled grasshopper,
mouth spitting up hook and death,
lash the air. Here Hemingway’s legs,
fully submerged, begin to feel
a cold grip and the first leaden pull
of Idaho downstream.

PASSENGER SEAT, ROUTE 1A

My God, the boxes:
trailers and double-wides,
the ranches and the shacks,
sheet-clotted windows, open
doors gagging up
one-armed dolls
and stained
blankets pregnant with rain
and mildew. Post-apocalyptic
lawn mowers
abandoned mid-swath
lean against berms of tall-grass
thick with the thrum of crickets
and August.
But the boxes most of all!
The pennants at the ends
of dirt driveways
proclaiming cottage industries:
OPEN flags, once colorful,
once waving, now limp and anemic
with sun and years.
Hand-painted signs
spelling Wild Maine Blueberries
or Tourmaline Here or Camp Firewood $5
in crooked letters,
and I think, with my brow
against air-conditioned glass,
My God, can they get out?
Can they escape? Are they happy?
It’s only when we hit
a pothole and I bump
my forehead that I remember
the moving box I am in.
My God.

SYNCHRONICITY

Maybe because the deep freeze
was almost Biblical in duration.
Maybe because it’s early March
and 55 degrees. Most likely it’s that
nurturing sun-sky without clouds
(unless you count six softly expanding
contrails slowly stitching white on blue).
It feeds the itch to move because movement
is life, which must mean it’s a sign
that a little girl on the opposite sidewalk,
a short-leashed box kite bouncing
behind her, is running and laughing
alongside her Golden Retriever
at the exact moment this breeze
brings a burst of pine needle
to the nose and I begin hearing icicles drip
black-water bull’s eyes into big puddles
below the eaves of neighbors’ houses,
reminding me of public fountains in the cities
of my youth, of water wobbly with copper
and silver wishes. Which must explain
why I’m being eyed by a snowbank’s crevice,
its shadowy cave an inhale of blue.
This as that Boeing 737 up there and that
Stihl chainsaw whining somewhere
fuse like the last circling ouroboro.
Some song self-consuming, I think, existing
yet not. A sleepy sound reminding
me of childhood’s thoughtless happiness,
of that brother lost in a frigid fissure
of the brain, the kid left decades ago
at a January bus stop where innocence
piled up in drifts, where no caves of blue
preyed upon once-upon-a-days like this,
ones crowned by a nurturing sun-sky without
clouds (unless you count six softly expanding
contrails slowly stitching white on blue).

Back to the top

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