Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems

Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems

by Tess Gallagher

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*A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Poetry Book of Fall 2011*

We brave into ourselves each time
we put on our lantern-light
and step out—as a gleam steps
out its overlapping forms
to lift a path from its nest of darkness.
—from "Midnight Lantern"

In Midnight Lantern: New and


*A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Poetry Book of Fall 2011*

We brave into ourselves each time
we put on our lantern-light
and step out—as a gleam steps
out its overlapping forms
to lift a path from its nest of darkness.
—from "Midnight Lantern"

In Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems, Tess Gallagher collects her indispensable work from forty years of writing poetry, along with an ample new section written in the west of Ireland. Included in this generous book are Gallagher's signature nocturnes—for the changing Pacific Northwest, for her hardscrabble childhood, and for her late husband, Raymond Carver, and others. Her challenging new work confronts a tumultuous century's worth of art, warfare, and illness, while certifying the stubborn resilience of poetry and love. Astonishing, insightful, mischievous, an inimitable "seeing-into experience," Midnight Lantern is the essential book by a poet in the prime of her power.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gallagher's large following has honored her work, since the 1970s, for many reasons. Some value her proliferation of family elegies, remembering her rough-hewn father and the hardscrabble corners of the American Northwest. Others see her as a generous travel poet, greeting the landscapes of Ireland and Japan: most of the 20 new poems here refer to the west of Ireland. Gallagher (Dear Ghosts) can also present herself as a spiritual guide, in poems about the nature of poetry: "if I speak of the soul," one poem concludes, "it is only to use a halo of doubt/ to mark the site of a true disappearance." Gallagher also remains well known, however, as the widow of Raymond Carver, who died in 1988. Much of Gallagher's verse, from then until now, looks back on what they shared. "If his are the only lips," "His Moment" asks, "am I never to be kissed/ except as one never-to-be-kissed again?" This big collection presents all of Gallagher's poetic sides: readers who already thought her overwrought, lacking technical polish, will not change their minds, but many others who take sustenance from Gallagher's words will find they have come to the right place here. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“Lush, entrancing, and thorny, this invaluable retrospective is crowned by 30 stellar new poems that find Gallagher in a beautifully earthy, coy, sharply observant, and cosmically affectionate mode.” —Booklist

“[Those] who take sustenance from Gallagher's words will find they have come to the right place here.” —Publishers Weekly

“It is impossible to read Tess Gallagher's poems without being drawn into their mesmerizing rhythms and convinced of the rightness of her intense yet unforced images.” —Joyce Carol Oates on Tess Gallagher

“Tess Gallagher's is perhaps the most deeply moving and spiritual and intensely intelligent poetry being written in America today.” —William Heyen on Tess Gallagher

“Never morose, sentimental, or embittered, Gallagher opens herself to the intricate miseries and mysteries of love in poems that are worthy of the Pulitzer Prize.” —The Seattle Times on Tess Gallagher

Product Details

Graywolf Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Midnight Lantern

New & Selected Poems
By Tess Gallagher

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2011 Tess Gallagher
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-55597-597-5

Chapter One

    When You Speak to Me

    Take care when you speak to me.
    I might listen, I might
    draw near as the flame
    breathing with the log, breathing
    with the tree it has not
    forgotten. I might
    put my face
    next to
    your face
    in your nameless trouble,
    in your trouble
    and name.

    It is a thing I learned
    without learning; a hand
    is a stronger mouth, a kiss could
    crack the skull, these
    words, small steps
    in the air calling
    the secret hands, the mouths
    hidden in the flesh.

    This isn't robbery.
    This isn't your blood for my
    tears, no confidence
    in trade or barter. I may
    say nothing back
    which is to hear
    after you the fever
    inside the words we say
    apart, the words we say so hard
    they fall apart.

    Instructions to the Double

    So now it's your turn,
    little mother of silences, little
    father of half-belief. Take up
    this face, these daily rounds
    with a cabbage under each arm
    convincing the multitudes
    that a well-made-anything
    could save them. Take up
    most of all, these hands
    trained to an ornate piano
    in a house on the other side
    of the country.

    I'm staying here
    without music, without
    applause. I'm not going
    to wait up for you. Take
    your time. Take mine
    too. Get into some trouble
    I'll have to account for. Walk
    into some bars alone
    with a slit in your skirt. Let
    the men follow you on the street
    with their clumsy propositions, their
    loud hatreds of this and that. Keep
    walking. Keep your head
    up. They are calling to you-slut, mother,
    virgin, whore, daughter, adulteress, lover,
    mistress, bitch, wife, cunt, harlot,
    betrothed, Jezebel, Messalina, Diana,
    Bathsheba, Rebecca, Lucretia, Mary,
    Magdelena, Ruth, you—Niobe,
    woman of the tombs.

    Don't stop for anything, not
    a caress or a promise. Go
    to the temple of the poets, not
    the one like a run-down country club,
    but the one on fire
    with so much it wants
    to be done with. Say all the last words
    and the first: hello, goodbye, yes,
    I, no, please, always, never.

    If anyone from the country club
    asks you to write poems, say
    your name is Lizzie Borden.
    Show him your axe, the one
    they gave you with a silver
    blade, your name engraved there
    like a whisper of their own.

    If anyone calls you a witch,
    burn for him; if anyone calls you
    less or more than you are
    let him burn for you.

    It's a dangerous mission. You
    could die out there. You
    could live forever.

    Beginning to Say No

    is not to offer so much as a fist, is
    to walk away firmly, as though
    you had settled something foolish,
    is to wear a tarantula in your buttonhole
    yet smile invitingly, unmindful
    how your own blood grows toward the irreversible
    bite. No, I will not

    go with you. No, that is not
    all right. I'm not your sweet-dish, your
    home-cooking, good-looking daffodil.
    Yes is no
    reason to slay the Cyclops. No
    will not save it. And the cricket, "Yes, yes."

    Fresh bait, fresh bait!
    The search for the right hesitation
    includes finally
    unobstructed waters. Goodbye,
    old happy-go-anyhow, old shoe
    for any weather. Whose
    candelabra are you? Whose
    soft-guy, nevermind, nothing-to-lose anthill?

    "And," the despised connective,
    is really an engine
    until it is yes all day, until a light
    is thrown against a wall
    with some result. And
    there is less doubt, yes or no,
    for whatever you have been compelled to say
    more than once.


    The day you came
    this world got its hold on me.
    Summer grass and the four of us pounding hell
    out of each other for god knows what
    green murder of the skull.
    Swart nubbins, I noticed you then,
    my mother shaking a gritty rag from the porch
    to get my shirt on this minute. Brothers,
    that was the parting of our ways, for then
    you got me down by something else than flesh.
    By the loose skin of a cotton shirt
    you kept me to the ground
    until the bloody gout hung in my face like a web.

    Little mothers, I can't find your children.
    I have looked in a man
    who moved through the air like a god.
    He brought me clouds
    and the loose stars of his goings.
    Another kissed me on a pier in Georgia
    but there was blood on his hands,
    bad whiskey in the wind. The last one,
    he made me a liar until I stole
    what I could not win. Loves,
    what is this mirror you have left me in?

    I could have told you at the start
    there would be trouble
    from other hands, how the sharp mouths
    would find you where you slept.
    But I have hurt you as certainly
    with cold sorrowing as anyone,
    have come the long way
    over broken ground to this softness.
    Good clowns, how could I know, all along
    it was your blundering mercies kept me alive
    when heaven was a luckless dream.

    The Woman Who Raised Goats

    Dear ones, in those days it was otherwise.
    I was suited more to an obedience
    of windows. If anyone had asked,
    I would have said: "Windows are my prologue."

    My father worked on the docks
    in a cold little harbor, unhappily
    dedicated to what was needed
    by the next and further
    harbors. My brothers
    succeeded him in this, but when I,
    in that town's forsaken luster, offered myself,
    the old men in the hiring hall creeled
    back in their chairs, fanning themselves
    with their cards, with their gloves.
    "Saucy," they said. "She's saucy!"

    Denial, O my Senators,
    takes a random shape. The matter
    drove me to wearing
    a fedora. Soon, the gowns, the amiable
    forgeries: a powdery sailor, the blue silk
    pillow given by a great aunt, my name
    embroidered on it like a ship, the stitched
    horse too, with its red plume and its bird eyes
    glowing. There was the education
    of my "sensibilities."

    All this is nothing to you.
    You have eaten my only dress, and the town
    drifts every day now
    toward the harbor. But always,
    above the town, above
    the harbor, there is the town,
    the harbor, the caves and hollows
    when the cargo of lights
    is gone.

    Black Money

    His lungs heaving all day in a sulphur mist,
    then dusk, the lunch pail torn from him
    before he reaches the house, his children
    a cloud of swallows about him.
    At the stove in the tumbled rooms, the wife,
    her back the wall he fights most, and she
    with no weapon but silence
    and to keep him from the bed.

    In their sleep the mill hums and turns
    at the edge of water. Blue smoke
    swells the night and they drift
    from the graves they have made for each other,
    float out from the open-mouthed sleep
    of their children, past banks and businesses,
    the used car lots, liquor store, the swings in the park.

    The mill burns on, now a burst of cinders,
    now whistles screaming down the bay, saws jagged
    in half-light. Then like a whip
    the sun across the bed, windows high with mountains
    and the sleepers fallen to pillows
    as gulls fall, tilting
    against their shadows on the log booms.
    Again the trucks shudder the wood-framed houses
    passing to the mill. My father
    snorts, splashes in the bathroom,
    throws open our doors to cowboy music
    on the radio. Hearts are cheating,
    somebody is alone, there's blood in Tulsa.
    Out the back yard the night-shift men rattle
    the gravel in the alley going home.
    My father fits goggles to his head.

    From his pocket he takes anything metal,
    the pearl-handled jack knife, a ring of keys,
    and for us, black money shoveled
    from the sulphur pyramids heaped in the distance
    like yellow gold. Coffee bottle tucked in his armpit
    he swaggers past the chicken coop,
    a pack of cards at his breast.
    In a fan of light beyond him
    the Kino Maru pulls out for Seattle,
    some black star climbing
    the deep globe of his eye.


    He motions me over with a question.
    He is lost. I believe him. It seems
    he calls my name. I move
    closer. He says it again, the name
    of someone he loves. I step back pretending

    not to hear. I suspect
    the street he wants
    does not exist, but I am glad to point
    away from myself. While he turns
    I slip off my wristwatch, already laying a trail
    for those who must find me
    tumbled like an abandoned car
    into the ravine. I lie

    without breath for days among ferns.
    Pine needles drift
    onto my face and breasts
    like the tiny hands
    of watches. Cars pass.
    I imagine it's him
    coming back. My death
    is not needed. The sun climbs again
    for everyone. He lifts me
    like a bride

    and the leaves fall from my shoulders
    in twenty-dollar bills.
    "You must have been cold," he says
    covering me with his handkerchief.
    "You must have given me up."

    Stepping Outside
      for Akhmatova

    Hearing of you, I never lost a brother
    though I have, never saw a husband to war,
    though I have, never kept with my father
    the emptiness of his hands, my mother
    the dying of her womb.

    Return: husbands, sons, fathers return.
    Many with both arms, with dreams
    broken in both eyes.
    They try, they try
    but they cannot tell us
    what comes back with them.

    One more has planted his hoe
    in my heart like an axe, my farmer uncle
    slain by thieves
    in the night, burned down
    with his house, buried, dug up
    to prove he was no dog.
    He was no dog.

    You, who lived in your pain until it grew
    its own face, would have left all this
    like a monument in a field. Your words
    would have made a feast of what ate you.

    Sit with me.
    No one has left; no one returns.

    Two Stories
      (To the author of a story taken from the death
      of my uncle, Porter Morris, murdered June 7,
      1972, Windyville, Missouri)

    You kept the names, the flies
    of who they were, mine
    gone carnival, ugly Tessie.
    It got wilder but nothing
    personal. The plot had me
    an easy lay for a buck.
    My uncle came to life
    as my lover. At 16
    the murderer stabbed cows
    and mutilated chickens. Grown,
    you gave him a crowbar that happened
    to be handy twice. Then you made him
    do it alone. For me
    it took three drunks, a gun, the house
    on fire. There was a black space
    between trees where I told you.

    The shape of my uncle
    spread its arms on the wire springs
    in the yard and the neighbors
    came to look at his shadow
    caught there under the nose
    of his dog. They left that angel
    to you. Your killer never
    mentioned money. Like us he wanted
    to outlive his hand in the sure blood
    of another. The veins of my uncle streaked
    where the house had been. They watched
    until morning. Your man found a faucet
    in an old man's side. His pants
    were stiff with it for days. He left
    the crowbar on Tessie's porch like a bone.

    My weapon was never found.
    The murderers drove a white
    station wagon and puked
    as they went. They hoped
    for 100 dollar bills stuffed
    in a lard can. But a farmer
    keeps his money in cattle
    and land. They threw his billfold
    into the ditch like an empty
    bird. One ran away. Two stayed
    with women. I kept the news
    blind. You took it from my mouth,
    shaped it for the market, still
    a dream worse than I remembered.

    Now there is the story of me
    reading your story and the one
    of you saying it
    doesn't deserve such care.
    I say it matters
    that the dog stays by the chimney
    for months, and a rain
    soft as the sleep of cats
    enters the land, emptied
    of its cows, its wire gates pulled down
    by hands that never dug
    the single well, this whitened field.

    The Calm

    We were walking through the bees
    and stars. Our mouths
    made a sense without us.
    I loved your hands
    because of your mouth, each star
    because of a life not chosen
    by the hand. I told you,
    don't say it, the loss
    of our lives beyond us. You
    said it. You said it
    for the sake of a loneliness
    together, for the praise of our eyes
    going on without shadows.

    Even now, when all our nights
    have washed away
    and the apples have left
    the trees, I am keeping your place
    where the high grass
    has entered the song. Like a swarm,
    the heart moves with its separate
    wings under the eaves.

    If I knew where to find you
    I would say good-bye
    and have the hurtful ease of that,
    but the gates are everywhere
    and this calm—an imagined forgiveness,
    the childhood before we meet again.


Excerpted from Midnight Lantern by Tess Gallagher Copyright © 2011 by Tess Gallagher . Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Tess Gallagher is a poet, fiction writer, essayist, screenplay writer, and translator. Her previous poetrycollections include Dear Ghosts, and Moon Crossing Bridge. She lives in Washington State and the west of Ireland.

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