The Featured American Poet: Lanny Ledeboer

lanny pic jpeg cropped

*****

Lanny has supplied the following biographical sketch:

I was born at the end of the baby boom and grew up accordingly. Plenty to eat, best friend down the street, Little League baseball and television cartoons on Saturday mornings. Car trips to Yellowstone and Disneyland. Movies to see, books to read. Typical Americana.

As a boy I read Edgar Rice Burroughs and found myself wanting to be a writer, even more than I wanted to be Tarzan. I filled pages of a grade-school notebook with a translation dictionary of jungle words to English (Numa = lion; Sheeta = leopard). Then I stumbled into the science fiction rack at the Greyhound bus depot downtown, and I dreamed of becoming the next Ursula Le Guin, the next Arthur C. Clarke.

In high school I read Hemingway and wanted to write the next great American novel. In college, though, I took an Introduction to Poetry class from a professor blessed with a full measure of that old good-teacher magic in his methods (thank you, Mr. Powell) and had the light of poetry revealed to me.

So, for the last thirty-some years, while teaching high school history in the provinces (a job that has been good to me), I’ve kept an ear on the drumbeat of poetry from afar. Subscribed to The New Yorker, bought a copy of Best American Poetry every year. And as another soldier in the great harmless army of Sunday poets, I wrote lines in my free time, now and then. Many a New Years Eve I resolved to snail mail a few poems here and there, only to wait for the rejection in its SASE to eventually wander home.

The years went by.

But in 2020, during the shutdown, while “teaching” from home for a year, something in the air spurred to me to take up poetry more seriously. And at the same time, by happy accident, my boyhood friend from down the street, having transformed in midlife into a poetry whisperer, agreed to be my first reader, making me a better poet in the process. (Thank you, Billy.)

I began to read and write more than ever, and then happened across Submittable, which makes submitting poems effortlessly doable (thank you, Submittable), so I started sending them out. Some of them found homes.

A good surprise, after all these years.

*****

Lanny Ledeboer: Nine Poems

FOR BILLY’S 50TH BIRTHDAY

At fifty you learn to walk again,
to appreciate the animal fact
of your tracks in the sand.
You buy the same Swiss army knife
you got for Christmas in 1975.
You reach a peace with barking dogs
and notice eccentricities of light
in the corners of familiar rooms.
You realize that a bathroom scale
can tell your fortune. You eat aspirin
and read the Greeks and listen to games
on the radio. You let your footprints
point the way as the mechanisms
of understanding begin to unfold
like a six-blade knife. Pointed
as a leather punch and square
as the head of a screwdriver.
Sharp as a factory edge.

THE SANDHILLS

At dark a thin moon unfurls
like a sail over an April lake.
A heron stands watch on the shore,
a slim shadow poised among flat shadows.
From the darkness comes the sound
of cranes settling in the distance,
a rustle as old as the murmur
of evening prayers in one of the cities
of the plain. And the voyage of the moon
across this lake is old, a journey
as long as the mind of a million cranes,
as deep as the floods that filled these hills
with waterlights ages ago. Even the heron
appears ancient tonight, a black blade
as old as a hieroglyph chipped in basalt
to name some long-forgotten god.
Heron and moon, neither moves.
Only the cranes in the dark
shuffle places in the shallows,
restless to follow this familiar flyway
to the waters of the north, leaving feathers
to float on the lake until they sink into stone

MAY MORNING

At eight o’clock the flock
of quail files out of the sumacs
into the sun-dappled yard,
coming to scratch breakfast
from the grass below the birdfeeder.
Watching from the woodpile, the cat
bats half-heartedly at the alopecia
on its ear, eyeing a bobbing quail
at the back of the line of birds.
I water the pot of lilies and sit
in the sun with a cup of coffee
while the quail claw the grass,
searching for spilled corn and millet.
The balding cat sprawls on the warmth
of the wood, watching the lame quail
drag its bad foot like a broken branch
dangling off a winter tree. The sun
peels the shadows from the patio
at the pace of a leaf growing, a flower
opening. At the rate of a reckoning
on a slow motion morning. I sip coffee
until nine, then go in to call the doctor

IN SPRING

The hose on the grass
leaves grace notes engraved in green.
A cursive haiku, etched in the lawn
for a day or two.
The grass grew tall here
in the gray lengths of winter.
Deep as a whisper.
This briefest of poems, penned
for the blackbirds gathering grass
to bind the future. A promise,
in longhand, of plenty.

ATLANTIS

Only we divide an island,
stretching chain link across the flank
of the highlands, stringing a facade
of chicken wire beside the river.
We draw a border as meaningful
as an ink spill from the beach
to the volcano and pledge ourselves
to the color of a newspaper,
to the acronym tattooed on the bicep
of a cop. Friday nights in the city
the soccer field hosts a knife fight.
And though turtles won’t balk at a line
chalked on the sand, and a parrot
on a fence will fly
into trees shaded red or blue
on the map in the library,
the lover swimming the river
at midnight must beware of the patrol.

PRIVILEGE

In the mornings we searched for eggs
speckled with the colors of stone,
and watched the tendrils of the pea
reaching for the trellis, the rust feeding
on a railroad spike. We preached the gossip
of ghosts under a sky of mackerel clouds
and charted the life cycle of dragonflies.
The afternoons we spent posting proofs
of the nine lives of nonsense,
the ironclad instinct of tribes,
and then walked down the street to the beach,
paying two coins apiece for the luxury
of swimming in a cold green sea.
Back home, we doubted our enemy’s love
of cereal grains and grandchildren,
and wrote their names in faded ink,
with idiot fonts. We knelt before swords
and flags and crosses, and cleared our throats
amidst the smoke of a smoldering republic,
as all the while a robin perched on the back fence,
singing for a mate. Our evenings ended
with thoughts and prayers and cable news,
over bottles of supermarket merlot
and a bowl of radishes sprinkled with salt.

THE DEEP NORTH

Only now can you walk a road
into distant country, past a shrine
carved into the face of a mountain,
above a forest of alpine green.
Abandon this kitchen, this chair,
the rules you taped to the mirror
in the hall all those years ago.
Leave last night’s wine glass
in the sink and start walking.
Find a haystack to sleep on
for the night, and in the morning
cut a staff to match your step
and fit your hand. Let a child
along the road make you a hat
of woven grass. Leave the mail,
the shoes in the hall, the mysteries
of plumbing. Walk to the nearest hills
and find a loose horse to follow.
Walk so far from the mirror
on the wall that you forget
the color of your hair,
the look in your eyes,
the words of yesterday
stuck to the glass.

A CHILD ASKS WHAT MAKES A POEM?

At the top of the pass
the trail crosses a rockfall,
a slope of loose slate
as old as the mountain,
as deep as the valley below.
Out of the rocks
an arch has been stacked,
straddling the path.
The stones, tall enough
for a tall man, lean at the top
until gravity tips them together
in a curve as clean as the arc
of the earth.
The arch should not stand.
No mortar, no scaffold of sticks.
No tricks of buttress or blocking.
Only this surprising geometry
of stones balanced across the sky.
Not a slate out of place.
Picked from the rockpile
by a painstaking hand,
the chosen few remain,
stacked by shape
and grain and weight.
At the top of the world, a gate.

NOVEMBER

Dusk.
A pair of hawks
above the skeleton trees of the orchard,
carving clouds into calligraphy,
poised for a slip of tail, a blur of fur.
The moment slows as still as the trees,
paused like a mouse in midstep
beside a dead leaf,
its tidbit heart ticking toward zero
under a cipher of circling shadows.
Dusk bends to darkness.
The hawks perch on a black branch
like a silhouette of the first alphabet,
a two-headed hieroglyph of life and death.
Alpha and omega, in an animal tongue.

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