Poetry Introduction, Winter 2022

“Portrait of a House,” oil and gold leaf on canvas, 2021, Kristin Ducharme, @kristin_ducharme_artist

Last November, my wife and I made a little homecoming visit to Missouri, where I grew up, to see my family again as my personal fears of the plague abated, at least enough to allow for travels. Each of us weighs a risk these days when seeing family, especially those older members who we worry may be compromised by our very presence. However, I had missed my father’s 80th birthday and then the next. I could no longer tolerate the way my fears paralyzed me from living a bit more. We were all vaccinated and boosted (as should be the case with every capable and responsible human being with access).

But I’ve been thinking a lot about what home means to me or to anyone. To get closer to it, that is, not to be interrupted or obfuscated by sentimentality or old regrets, or even by a solipsistic demand to be seen as I am and not under the mis-categorization based on what I once was, which was also false. In a sense, to see them as they were, I needed to lose my subjectivity, at least as much as was possible. In the first place, home is an emotional landscape of primary self-discovery. Not only a space in which we were cared for, at least enough to survive, but the Edenic: where we were born, unsullied and all id, where we were first introduced to ourselves, even before being shaped by that initial dynamic, or how we resisted that shape and refused to conform. On the other hand, home is an analysis of the authentic: of those relationships, experiences, and the environments that produced us.

Homesickness as a feeling, cut from the haze of nostalgia, seems something very worth delving into, but is very difficult to articulate, because it so depends on a swirl of memory to which we attach emotional significance. That’s why it came to me only when I gave up trying. I focused on a little hayride we were taken on and the inconsequential details of that event. It may not say anything to anyone else, but it captures something for me that is true and I thought I would share the only decent piece of prose to come of the trip:  

We sat in folding chairs on a plywood trailer floor: sister, wife, father, and brother-in-law. We faced each other, back legs butting up the long sides against the short, chipped, green painted panels. We held our strong drinks low so they would not spill and chatted in the bright cold and windy day. The trailer was hitched to the blue tractor and my brother pulled us slowly over trails and the edges of fields, lurching and swaying on the big tires wider than the rumps of two horses. The gears jerked us out of swampy ditches, thatch grass, and soybean chaff remaindered for the season, now colored by their ghosts, pale blonds, browns, grays, and greens. Over the fields, the sky looked more enormous and expanded into a blue, radiant dome, bifurcated by contrails and buttressed by high cirrus. A tall line of towers carried power lines over us from the hydroelectric at Truman Lake and marked the half-way point across my brother’s property. We went so slowly, his children could jump off the back with ease and board again, the eldest reemerging casually, completely of his element, with a stem between his teeth. It was the sort of vision I just knew would create a homesickness when I recalled it later as I do now. And yet it was not my home. The old dog, Miller, a black lab, seemed a hobo in formal wear with gray-to-white whiskers at his mouth and chin. He happily lay between us on a bed and we kept covering him with a blanket he adored all the more because he was in the comfortable cold, far from any road, and beloved. And he seemed to know it and did not try to please but sunk into the centermost middle of a now that was timeless. We pulled up our coats and went in a jigsaw pattern skirting the pond across the narrow earthen dam and out to the causeway where a barn had collapsed. We saw a deer, hawk, owl, and opossum and noticed the light had changed. The bad nephew took off and threw his boots into the long heathery grass of a tantrum and dove in to fetch them out. He fell behind and pouted on the trail to nowhere. The trailer pulled away and put some distance between us. He ran to catch up as if he knew it was a mistake to leave us for his vanity. We lent our arms down to the prodigal and swung him safely back aboard to a minor jubilation. The tractor lunged suddenly, shifting gears out of a rut, and most of us fell over each other, laughing.

This issue of Parhelion presented several obstacles. Namely some personal illness and back trouble, the like of which was something debilitating, a bit frightening, and still uncomfortably with me. Because I decided not to participate in our last “themed” Halloween issue, it put me under a larger mountain of submissions. Everyone knows I dislike beginning with a theme in mind for poetry selections. Why, you ask? Because I think every poem deserves to be taken at face value, without additional criterion, separate even from the submitter’s biography or publication history. Already I need to pass on deserving submissions for one reason or another. Besides, every issue tends to create its own echoes and connections between writers and ultimately takes shape. And this is what I hope you find between the writers featured in this issue, somewhat like a short visit to their homes, comprised in equal measure of the Edenic and authentic.

That summer was our last together. An aneurysm. / Now his voice comes when I’ve most forgotten it.

Brian Culhane, “Recollections”

Watching bees come back to the hive. Returning / the way we hope our dead ones will, intact.

Maya Janson, “Not Knowing How to Begin is a Way to Begin”

He put word out that this was / his elderly father /
who had moved in with him / and was trying to find /
his way to his new home.

George Ryan, “Someone Suspicious”

The sky barely misting, the gunshots closer to home, / my father in his faraway wood forgetting

Joanna Lee, “Dehiscence”

I only / saw him cry when we told him it was time / to stop working, close his tiny windowless / office and come home.

Craig Brandis, “Last Office”

the glamor of my / own personal history, a café that / must be decades gone

John Randall, “Time’s Beach”