Odd Bloom Seen from Space

Odd Bloom Seen from Space

by Timothy Daniel Welch


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These poems speak an odd nostalgia for what turns on, in, and alongside the world. A tragedy of loss, a miracle of eroticism, or a comedy of road kill, Odd Bloom Seen from Space looks at the self amid the ashes of fleeting exultation and uncertainty. The speaker tells stories with wild candor on matters of heroic inadequacy while searching through his obsessive questions for greater meaning.

But it’s in the act of discovery, through the hero’s immediate ancestry that Welch’s debut collection confronts big questions about family, music, art, and memory. Like a contemporary Diogenes who pursues meaning one small gesture at a time, Welch comes to learn truth is a “brutal commerce,” beauty is “white legs / upon which she shed her childhood,” time is “Michael Jackson / hooting in the trees,” and “Love is gradual, a bottle / by sips, a bottle / poured onto the floor.” There is wisdom to be gained from these inventive pursuits, but in the end it’s not what is said, but how it’s said with terse rhetoric, deep imagery, and surprising humor that makes Odd Bloom Seen from Space such a gorgeous, original, and baffling collection.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609385040
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Publication date: 04/15/2017
Series: Iowa Poetry Prize Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 92
Sales rank: 1,311,539
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

TIMOTHY DANIEL WELCH’s poetry may be found in journals such as Rattle, Arts & Letters, Best New Poets, Green Mountains Review Online, and elsewhere. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida. 

Read an Excerpt

Odd Bloom Seen from Space

By Timothy Daniel Welch

University of Iowa Press

Copyright © 2017 Timothy Daniel Welch
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60938-504-0


You're on Earth. There's no cure for that.

— S. Beckett

On the Isle of Erytheia

My virginity, like a herd of red cattle
  I drove for seventeen years,

was dumb and almost

  beautiful —
    I spent my time tending

to the animals in me. I remember their tails,
  those tender curls, and

  the long nights
following strays to the rim

    of town and faltering, spooked

      by a train whistle or the start
  of an engine. Some place, this

Erytheia, for skinny boys
    without a sense of butchery —

  a tiny island of Greek heroes
who came to kill whatever

    sad, hoofing creatures insulted

  the gods. Then the myth

of my own hard slaughter: there was
  a girl, she led me to a vacant life

guard tower, told me to begin with the shirt
    or the pants, my inadequacy was

  a Homeric round-up.

Against the silver-rooted water
  the sky reddened

    and blackened itself, a little
breeze crept calmly along

  the sand and dropped grain
    after grain into its golden bowl.

Nose of Least Comparison

I have a nose the Greeks might call
their own,
    or the Tunics, a great gnomon

  leaning in the sun
like a timepiece casting shadows

    on a garden stone.

  This is my grandfather's nose —

who came from Greece during the Second World War,
    a fugitive from his family

unable to carry out his mother's decree
  to kill his unmarried sister who went
    with the postal clerk, got pregnant, and

disappeared from Patras to one of the Ionian

    A ripple to his ripple,
  is there a story to each wave that crosses the sea?

  How is it history has come
    and gone yet for the worried face
we place on it, a face nosing above

growing ecological disasters; a face
  of concentration treading the floodgates

of Bangladesh and tsunami ravaged
  Japan. By night, the tower of my face

    rises in search of its
architectural antecedents supporting the black rims

  of my spectacles,

    and from that height I'm a glacially
whittled valley, or a lost city

  as a tower of Carthage articulating
the capital building before its — twice — ruin

    of salt and fanatics, before inclusion

  in UNESCO, before Tunisia.
    A tower belonging to the historic drama

it provides, the feature from which sailors
    watched seaward cargos of cumin, cinnamon,
      sumac, foreign

    mercenaries hauling elephants
on Roman triremes, the harbor master

  counting slave girls and horses,

    and fleets of parading cannons
  tilting on an eastern breeze. This is

my grandfather's nose — a man

  who found his dishonored sister
hiding with the clerk,
    but it was too late, the child

      had already been born. And before
he could raise a casserole dish

to collapse her skull,
  he caught a glimpse of his profile

on the infant, held up

  the child indelicately, and stayed for dinner.

Tell the Truth But Leave Immediately After

Like the bear constellation who — after eating
  the horse — gets hitched
    to the wagon and

learns the difficult way that honesty is a kind of
solitude, a little shade of tree and
the hint of feet going —

  I have lived most of my life alone.
But not entirely. There was a time when a man

solicited me for sex but first wanted to buy me
  new shoes, so we window-shopped

until evening. The next step was to try on
"a dark boot," he said, and I remembered how

I wondered about the soul on my way home from school or
naked, touching a window smudge of a hand with
my hand, not knowing

what side of the glass I was on, or where
I was, where I was going, a soul in halves, an organ
like the spleen that listens
  and adjusts its white pulp —

I wanted a truth that blistered and
if possible said something about
my place in a brutal commerce,

my place in avoidance and so completely
wake from a dream like the one in high school when
I knew I loved
one of two twins — Julie, not

Jenny — with such clarity I poured orange juice
in my cereal. When I asked Julie if she'd go out

I left wondering which is more
human, to shoot
or to be shot, and if there's any truth

to taking a punch — close your eyes and
smile? or if the old Slovenian proverb,

  "Tell the truth but leave immediately after —"

    asks to live one's life alone,
like the man standing outside a shoe store
watching his young prospect run —

because if a truth is ever told then
no one can ever leave.

You must discover the landscape as you go. — Lawson Fusao Inada

The Children

The snow was falling on the beach
and so the children

gathered it
  into their hands.

They mixed white sand and whiter frost

into balls of light
  and threw them. I watched

a girl's eye drift naked among the tide.
I watched the evening give way

to the boulevard.

  And when the snow moved
inland, I became scared

for them, of how this will seem
in memory, if this was happiness,
and if it were me, what might this

  have meant. How unreal

seems a child's mind, these brief comets

  at my feet.

Seal Beach

The sea is flimsier than I remember, not as dark,

    not as deeply.

  Maybe I've aged well, or aged enough

to see beyond its shore. The tiny town where I was raised,
    my childhood Pacific,

  it's been years but I headed west
and the sight of it in pieces

  spilling itself into place — this oceanic,
one of those words that breaks

against itself. And to swim
    the ghost currents of Seal Beach,
  looking for shells like lenses to enlarge the sea.

But the seashells of a boy are not the bones of a man —

    and seals surely
held their bones here once, lifting their backs
upon the water like the town pier on its wooden beams,
  its 50s diner and the teenage waitress

    I'd meet after her late shift to stroll
the full length of the pier. Distances were longer
  then, my heart

leaner as we passed fishermen who paused to glimpse
  her skirt, their hooks

sinking into that stillness. For years I was haunted
by those summers cooled by the sand, the pier

    lamped at dusk when I'd see her, a bright fissure —

and when the pier collapsed it was rebuilt
    above the ruins like an obsessive

  question: on what do we prop our lives and
    what if it can't hold?

  I've changed the way I love because of this

and built my relationships far from shore like the pines
  that support themselves by an earthen stem —

I've climbed them
  and wavered at the top. I've had to fall

to feel a flash come over me
  worn hard as water.

Parts of a Feather

It is surely cohesive.
G. Stein

In my searching there's the vane, rachis, barb,
afterfeather, and
hollow shaft —

built up from small drifts and
counterturns, an explanation of outer patience
suggests if I had feathers, a gull

or an owl would suit me
because my silence, my satisfied
helplessness, is either tucked tightly

in a sheen, or widely spread. What I know
of wings — of how arms break
to be held — is the way the feather

intersects with itself and its
others, macroscopically, shifting but
entwined. The rotten feather

is smoothed, oiled, or pulled and when diseased
can be constrictive, stunting
like fear from a young age, a chronic

necrosis. How many feathers
does one need to pull to line
the nest, asleep and adrift

like the river in Northern California — some distance
from Reno — called the Feather, fed by
the Sierra Nevadas

as it turns each season toward
the Rio Grande. As a skinny boy,
with some urgency,

I'd fish there, then swim if
it was summer, float
to where the river flared

into catfish, crawdad, rainbow or brown
trout. There's an easiness
in the way its feathers became divisions

along its shore: mornings
as the sunlight drove the fish
to bite, my father might break

open a beer as early as nine and
teach me to thread night crawlers on
hooks. There was no more silence

in him than that river refracting
the early mountain shade, no more calm
than a stone tossed to wobble

the edges of the boat. When I go back
along the spine, the bristles
that crisscross the short branchlets

become clearer, a single feather shows
itself to be a system, each quill
its own feather within a feather —

after my father's second divorce
he began listening to Robert Bly's audio tapes
and growing a beard. He opened

the door to the Lincoln to drive me
around the neighborhood and promised
that we would break the cycle

of shame began by his father — the eagle, vulture,
baby bird — and his father before him.
What a sad perch, the dark

twists in the bone so sincerely
connected to the strings from which
we fly, loving and dying monsters

crested with barbs. But then we
learned the river, caught
our share of fish, which was enough,

and which we scaled together,
gutted, and then ate. Each frightening
wing of me eats and eats because

I can never know what's holding me up,
or feel the stiff plumes
or the sick broadening.

For my colleague, I have an interest —

Of his stomach and the shirt that stretches there
  there isn't enough shirt

Of his beard two-fingers past his chin the man
  is Walt Whitman

Of his Halloween invitation to visit a haunted house
  in Chicago, is he serious?

I am not
  though of his invitation I am considerate

And of his five children I know of only Becky —
  college-age, like one of his students

And of his students there is a baffling sincerity, they
  like him fine — and between us

There is silent competition for the adoration
  of the student populace

But of my children there are none but students
  and an amaryllis I water with a measuring

Cup — cold water, about as cold as I can pour it
  and I can be cold to my students

And drip cute insults, and they laugh though
  there is a price for humor

There's remorse, wondering if it was bad
  to tell a student he speaks as well as he writes

When his subjects disagree with his verbs
  and of the streets there are a thousand

And a million grammatical errors — that's why
  I love my colleague's teaching style,

The plain way he color codes his lessons on
  the white board — his penmanship is like a woman's,

Purple, and slightly looping into a series of quarries
  such as What is a claim?

What is a Reason? What is a refutation?
  What is a concession?

I try to make my students ask these questions
  themselves, but how can they seriously ask

Themselves Who modernized
  the Argumentative line of reason?

A question I have asked myself many times and
  still don't know the answer —

But to communicate this to my students, to ask
  a question that they can't answer

And to know it or not know it, but to answer anyway —
  ah, my friend, we mustn't be coy

With knowledge. That should come first. Next
  should be people. It's strange to connect

The two together and of my greatest students
  I think of bodies of water filling

And shifting out of the shadows — they are lucky
  if they can take the shape the world

Has dug for them. So, my colleague and I meet
  around lunch time, and he speaks in dissertation,

Says more about Star Wars than anyone I've ever known,
  and asks me again if I like Chaucer.

Star Wars and Chaucer. Katy Perry and hygiene.
  Our students and ourselves.

Slobs of the Ineffable Go to Evensong

Frank is a walk made strange, made Spaceman,
made all the more interesting baked
with his magic light lunchbox in the English
department lavatory —

of all the pot he's had today, of all
the chicken, my friend, on Tuesdays, we
are the descants of obsession, of design, and as poets
we've schooled-up to see ourselves even more

arcane. Our friendship is based on opera,
Fellini, and garage bands. We get bored
into things and suffer till
we're bored, till Frank says something

inappropriate like what's it like having
such a fuckable wife? —

I think understanding him means
wanting what he wants, his taste in songcraft:

I like it when the singer is indecipherable
so it's easier to sing along.
But Spaceman on
the lawn, on the wooden deck with a burger —
he moves like David Hasselhoff stepping from a rocket

and flirts — A fully comprehensible erection and a body left out
in the shine, Timothy you are a poet capital P. Whatever you touch
maxes itself out in me like a MasterCard.
I suppose
what hinges on contrition, on mania or nonsense

becomes friendship as much as illusion, but
in absolute disinterest he says, come to Evensong,
come to the service and I'll sing to you
from the choir.
For Frank the fall furthers

the flight, and love spills innumerably
at loose distances while the church
bears us. It's strange how he's Christendom
in immense clothes, in cassock and surplice,

wafting white sleeves that blur and fade, and
piped from the organ a kind of light
that bruises the old men sitting upon
some great assumption, the obscured eyes

from the pews where, half-full, the church
listens to Nicolas de Grigny and I go looking
toward the vaults and rafters —
have I fallen from am I going to whose spirit

have I heard — until I'm back to St. John's
Episcopal Church that seems to shine upon a dead word:
Welkin. It used to mean a curved sphere like a movie
screen where philosophers, poets, and saints believed

the night sky — its stars and dusts as incense swung
on silver chains — was projected, evidence that heaven
is a reflection, even Frank who hangs his own image by
the shoulders and is nothing but orbital, enameled,

perfecting what's real by eyeing me from across
the church and wondering who I am,
if my ancestors sang and schemed as celestial
bodies, if they believed in a welkin that could

make their intimacies worthwhile. I look at Frank
and realize the artifice that there's no welkin
in the 21st century, which is why he is so needed,
why some of my ancestors were born while

docking the Mayflower, and why these Quakers
were martyred. We are a species of enchantment
and tempt history in our spasms while Frank
sings, wishing October would last where nothing

augments. He loosens the cope and takes me out
to the churchyard to share a joint;
farther off the children's choir looks —
looks nothing like children.

The Odd Bloom of Sept. 11, Seen from Space

The astronaut said
it was an odd bloom, smoke from a wound

at the base of the column
  streaming south of the city.

I don't know
  how to collect each new

  perspective, but I lived
in the garage of a Vietnamese

bachelor then. I was told to use the kitchen
  whenever. I had carpet and

my own side entrance passing six garbage
cans, and the garage door

  was lined in mirrors
so that I could see the television and my own face,
peripherally, which is what this is, some side-line

  reflection, because if memories
gain distance, then they are seen anew.

It's been over ten
  years since 9–11, since I slept

in the garage that I decorated with water
color paintings of red skies, red bodies of water,

  and pools of yellow
moons seen through branches; the paintings

were a blur of quick smudges of men
  and women walking on a bridge

strung with gas lamps. There are odd

blooms whenever I think back on my twenties,
and the solitary evenings when

I could hear my landlord and
  his girlfriend talk, too hushed

to translate their affection, even if I knew how,
and when I needed something to eat, I'd walk

  behind the couch they were on
so I might toast some bread. From here
I can almost see that astronaut.
He is married; he has an apartment with a pool;

and he paints a blue sphere
where waves, moment to moment, return

the thousands silently, as if breaking
free of orbit together.


Excerpted from Odd Bloom Seen from Space by Timothy Daniel Welch. Copyright © 2017 Timothy Daniel Welch. Excerpted by permission of University of Iowa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


On the Isle of Erytheia,
Nose of Least Comparison,
Tell the Truth But Leave Immediately After,
The Children,
Seal Beach,
Parts of a Feather,
For my colleague, I have an interest —,
Slobs of the Ineffable Go to Evensong,
The Odd Bloom of Sept. 11, Seen from Space,
Outside Los Banos, California,
2. Bolero,
These Arrow-Smitten Stymphalian Birds,
To Laura, a Virgin-Unwed,
"I don't want to die on a listserv",
Retractable by Design,
Portraits at the Funeral,
Self-Portrait of a Sister, Cubist-Style,
People Are Taking Advantage of It,
The Hot Siberians,
Working for My Father,
The Park Below,
We Lost the Avant-Garde to Mass Culture,
Blazon for Our Time,
When She's Writing,
Carried by a Bee,
The Double Life of Veronique,
The Snow People,

What People are Saying About This

Craig Morgan Teicher

“In these poems, Welch is an attentive watcher who has ‘lived most of my life alone.’ From the little distance he cultivates, he manages a detailed view of the big picture. He is sometimes at the seashore, where he can observe children at play, seals ‘lifting their backs / upon the water,’ and wonders, ‘is there a story to each wave that crosses the sea?’ He looks to the distant shores of Greece, both for its timeless myths that are the roots of Western thought, and perhaps for more personal connections. This is classical poetry set in our time, with room for ‘Owls and their Michael Jackson / hooting in the trees’ and ‘reading Anna Karenina / on a Kindle.’ The ‘odd bloom’ of the title is an astronaut’s vision of the towers collapsing on 9/11, though Welch sees it ‘peripherally, which is what this is, some side-line / reflection’; history seems to happen to other people, in other places, affording Welch his detached viewpoint from which a kind of unbiased truth might be reported. Finally, for all its subtle sarcasms, this is a deeply earnest book, one sensitive soul’s reckoning with a troubled age.”

Ronald Wallace

“In language gemlike, shining, Timothy Daniel Welch invokes the labors of Hercules, an odd bloom seen from space, a mother’s death, fishing, snow, and an ode to a nose, to embrace the vagaries of memory and the mysteries of time and the universe, in poems that continually seduce and surprise. ‘Imagine a book of poems catching fire in the afternoon,’ and you will know this book of marvels, this marvel of a book.”

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