Professor of English, Keene State College (New Hampshire), teaches creative writing, literary theory, and
modern poetry. Born in Connecticut, he lived in Boston, Cambridge, and Arlington (MA) for many years, attended various
colleges, and after a certain amount of angst received a Ph.D. from Boston University. After teaching at Goddard, Harvard,
and Emerson colleges, he came to Keene State in 1982. He has published several collections of poetry, most recently Sacra
Via (Tatlock Publications, 2005) and Another Ice Age (Cedar Hill, 2006), and three critical studies—The Years of Our
Friendship: Robert Lowell and Allen Tate (University Press of Mississippi, 1990), and The Modern Voice in American Poetry
(University Press of Florida, 1995), Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors (Ohio University Press, 1999)--and a textbook entitled
How to Read and Interpret Poetry (Prentice-Hall). His critical essays, poetry, and reviews have appeared in many academic
and literary journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review,
Modern Philology, Antioch Review, Natural Bridge. He lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, hikes a lot and observes mushrooms
in their natural habitat, assisted by his cats.
I've never leaned so far backwards
before, but here I am in Egypt, long Before the Common Era, writing on papyrus with a pen wrought from a hollow reed.
My thick-walled adobe house seems frankly upper class. Nowhere else in my dream life have I entered the hoi polloi;
I've had to reach back four thousand years. Still, the sky retains that familiar temperate blue, and the dust in the
road and the vegetable greens are shades of New England as I know it from hot summers swatting flies and pouting over useless
books any bright child could explicate. What have I escaped? Only the pale landscape of winter that numbs before
it kills, the body absorbed by the psyche. "Cabin Fever," some wags call it, but now in Egypt in the age of the Pharaohs
I suffer symptoms of a new claustrophobia, the knowledge that the era is dead already, that I'm seeing myself as the ghost
of a dead culture. My reed pen slips in my fist, my papyrus slopped with pictograms I can't understand; and the river,
ghostly on the horizon, rises like the winter dawn to engulf me in the single raw fact.
Along the upper valley, the hills crowd like spectators at an accident. Heat haze licks the faded
contours. The green of Vermont's impersonal in summer, a tone so uniform it explains nothing of the shapes crouched
beneath that heavy cover. The chrome slash of river's the only fact to offset the misty heat. We've driven far
to escape it, but whizzing along on 91 in our white Toyota pickup we're sinking into the landscape like dinosaurs deflating
toward extinction. Scientists predict that global temperatures will rise two degrees a year for some twenty years.
The icecaps will melt and cities will drown. Forty degrees warmer! We'll boil like potatoes in our skins.
Robert Frost chose fire over ice, and was correct, but he hadn't heard of the greenhouse effect. In Vermont today the
steamy heat is greenhouse-tough, the ozone might be entirely depleted, for all we know. Some, Frost might still insist,
say the world nonetheless will end in ice, perhaps because we wish we'd appreciated these hills when they lay corrugated in
sentimental layers of snow.
My favorite coffee cup, deep blue pottery,
drops, spills its load, shatters on the hardwood floor. A sign of which impending failure? In childhood, I pined
over toys that broke or lost themselves in grass as tall as I was. I thought my life would enlarge into losses so grand
I'd never reach high school, impossibly in the future. Looking back, I know I was right--loss so fully engulfed me I
couldn't see the random series of facts, only the pattern. Now, in the clenched light of May, I concentrate on bird-song
delicate as the rustling of clothes the morning after adultery. How can I escape the criminal grief of even the smallest
loss, the blue pottery shards hacking at my bulging pale blue veins, the coffee grim as fuel oil? Best to clean up and
pretend this was a plot to assassinate the ego, not the entire self: a plot carried out in gestures so unfamiliar I'm not
to blame but am merely a victim, self-elected by chance to begin this day with tiny increments of pain.
I'm always on the edge. Beech and hickory in windswept rows, then a strangled little
brook, then the absence, abrupt and blue. The world ends on the tip of my tongue. Villages tumble in a shrug of
clapboard, dented autos, unmown pastures that rant like unraveling wool. How can I step back from the brink of an autumn
blue so permanent I'll carry it like ancestry beyond the failure of language into the sheer exuberance of a universe still
Columbus wasn't wrong; he merely failed to notice how the various flat earths sometimes
lock together like cells in a honeycomb, sometimes reject each other and leave blue gaps some men and women can cross easily
in a single stride, while others can't leap with a pole or even a bible in each hand. Donne said no man is an island,
but every discernible footprint in the muck is an isolated human presence, factual and therefore singular, represented now
by a sigh too mundane to move us like screams in the night or trees rasping in the brittle wind.
the edge, I want to walk with fixed gaze and feel the stones give way to abstraction. I'll stride right through
my ignorance till I cross another fumbling brook and the hills again rise about me. Then I'll fill with light as palpable
as knowledge, but innocent of design.
All day on foot in the city,
I feel the streets angle away from me, ashamed of their wooden tenements and junk cars slouched by the curb. Thaw beads
like mercury and pools in potholes gouged by heavy trucks. The sidewalks heave and sway like the teakwood decks of yachts,
but I'm alone on them this Sunday, everyone indoors watching hockey on the tube, or downtown prowling among drugged, sickly
I never go downtown anymore. Why face old friends in these dated clothes, this improvised
haircut, these numb old shoes? Too late to quicken into the rhetoric I'd imagined would empower me in politics or high
finance. Better to sprawl full-length in the street and embrace the grid pattern that like a coarse-grained fish-net
keeps the earth from rising to erase the distinction between myself and the granite business blocks that pin the ego to the
sidewalk and ground it forever.
Better to walk these outlying streets until the tenements collapse
in a clap of wonder and the inhabitants stream forth and embrace me for the faith with which I've walked for entire lifetimes
without ever betraying my name.