James Hoggard’s new collection of poems is an elegant, highly energetic volume that takes its readers through a wealth of settings, times, and forms. As versatile a poet as there is, Hoggard time and again turns his attention to forms like pantoum and ghazals that heighten the readers’ responses to the stories he tells in verse. In fact, one of the signal pieces in the volume shows Hoggard unearthing an old story about Odysseus’ trying through a wealth of trickery to get out of going to the Trojan War. What the tale adds up to, however, is a deeply moving love story that seems genuinely contemporary. Running throughout this collection is a powerful use of environmental collapse as both theme and metaphor.
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About the Author
James Hoggard is a translator, a playwright, a novelist, an essayist, and a poet whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including Arts & Letters, Harvard Review, and Words Without Borders. He is the recipient of the Lon Tinkle Award for Excellence Sustained Throughout a Career, a poet laureate of Texas, and the former president of the Texas Institute of Letters. He is the Perkins-Prothro Distinguished Professor of English at Midwestern State University and the author of more than 20 books, including The Devil's Fingers & Other Personal Essays, The Mayor's Daughter, Riding the Wind, Triangles of Light: The Edward Hopper Poems, Trotter Ross, and Wearing the River. He lives in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
Soon After Rain
By James Hoggard
Wings PressCopyright © 2015 James Hoggard
All rights reserved.
Soon After Rain
Soon after rain has stopped, a silence comes
when no bird sings and no wind stirs.
The world seems briefly mute
and sweet attention's everywhere.
When no bird sings and no wind stirs
the world itself seems to have hushed,
and sweet attention's everywhere:
no circling ripples stir the pond.
The world itself seems to have hushed:
traffics of sound have disappeared,
no circling ripples stir the pond,
the turtles staying still on rocks.
Traffics of sound have disappeared,
a sense of absence everywhere:
the turtles staying still on rocks,
and no fish strike at phantom flies.
A sense of absence everywhere,
as if nothing has the need to breathe,
and no fish strike at phantom flies,
and nothing has the need to speak.
As if nothing has the need to breathe,
the world seems briefly mute,
and nothing has the need to speak.
Soon after rain has stopped, a silence comes.
Late Afternoon Rain
Late afternoon, the thunder came,
long after another rain had dropped,
but when the late, loud thunder roared
that earlier rain had long since stopped.
Was another rain ready to fall?
Touching Different Worlds
Afternoons more than mornings
I spent hours watching clouds
forming creatures and stories
in the kingdom of the sky.
Elephant trunks and deer were there,
rhino horns and wild boar tusks,
unicorns and dinosaurs,
and faces of beasts I'd never seen.
And sometimes winds made the creatures crash
while wisps of vapors, unattached,
kept my attention alert:
I was sailing alone on a distant sea.
Morning skies, though, seldom mattered.
Mornings were for persimmon fights
and the need to haul up pipes
friends and I had tossed in the creek.
Catfish and crawdads lodged in them.
There were worlds under water,
and worlds under rocks, worlds in tall grass
and worlds in the thick oak woods.
Mornings meant earth, but afternoons, sky,
and evening's games kept me outside.
There were endless worlds I had to explore,
and some were worlds I could barely see:
neighborhood yards full of tarantula holes
and snakes coiled up in flowerbeds.
I had a thousand worlds to explore,
and many of those I could barely see.
Bull Riding at the Atkeisons' Ranch
The first time I tried to ride the bull
he threw me fast — a sudden twist
and I sailed off his back but missed
the fence — the next time, though, I knew
to strain, to lean against his back.
That worked a rough but sweet wild time —
through bucks and twists my heels beat time
against his neck, then suddenly,
head down, he stopped and I flew off
over head and horns. The world had lost
its sense of speed, and though now tossed,
I hung somehow afloat in air,
and gliding slowly now, I missed
the fresh manure I'd been flying toward,
but when I hit I landed hard
and somersaulting skidded through
the loose, ammonia-fragrant dirt.
Leaving the Lincoln Memorial
So leaving the Lincoln Memorial
and coming to the stairs, I said,
Chuck, take my arm, and he did.
My sunglasses on and right hand raised
through the bright late-morning air,
I said I had truly found greatness here.
I could feel, I said, Lincoln's rich presence
when I touched the stone his likeness rested on,
but oh! If I only had eyes to see him!
And as we walked down the long stone stairs,
I ran my fingers through the braille of the air,
and stopping, people looked, listened, and wept.
We were now among new sets of them.
They, too, were going where we had been,
and again I said how fine it was to touch
the stone that Lincoln's likeness rested on,
then finally, as we neared our car where
our parents were waiting for us, another family
passed by us but stopped as we slowed down
and I went through my patter again,
and the mother, tweaking the ears of her boys,
said, Look! The little brother is helping
his blind big brother — they know how to act!
Then they, too, were gone, though the father,
I saw, was biting his upper lip to keep
from weeping — then Mother asked, What
are you two doing? So we told her, but swore
we had done the good thing: we had made
the day holy for those who had passed
beside us, who had heard what grief I felt
at not being able to see Lincoln in stone,
though there was joy, a power of joy
in feeling his presence before us,
but the moment I said that, I saw
Dad turn away, in grief, it seemed,
at what terrible deceit he had spawned.
A crowd of thin dark clouds scudded till
it covered our valley, the place where we'd
pitched tent, and broke the scorching heat.
I noticed then the flies had gone — they'd been
a constant irritant almost a week:
they'd been as aggravating as the heat.
Then long and rumbling thunder rolls echoed
between the mountains — but no rain came,
then soon I saw three lightning strikes
zigzagging down the canyon toward the spruce,
but no rain fell and I kept wondering when
high virgas would turn into pouring rain
that soaked the trees, that turned the forest's floor
into an aromatic, pasty mulch,
or if high rain would simply disappear
the way rain often does — lightning flashing
in streaks and sheets, as if the air itself
has been electrified — but no rain falls:
no way to know if rain will come at all.
This Alien Place Called Home
There are no antique shards to dig up here.
Because the winds had blown the gods away
the Indians dared not set their camps near here,
and now we have to face the fact that where
we live has no tradition, nothing's stayed:
there are no antique shards to dig up here.
If some in foolishness chose where
we live, they never cared in any way
that Indians dared not set their camps near here —
unless they began to wonder: Were
they right? Of course, they might have been, but say:
There are no antique shards to dig up here
then ask if our own fathers did not hear
the message of the winds and droughts, that they,
the Indians, dared not set their camps near here.
And then admit our fathers were wild-haired
and driven men who did not stop to say:
There are no antique shards to dig up here.
The Indians dared not set their camps near here.
News yesterday said storms had sent new lines
of rushing waters into subway lines.
Today's news said whole regions were cut off
from casual travel there — no railway lines
were sending trains through there, the places swept
by flows of waters still so deep that lines
were being thrown to those who'd lost their homes,
so many now attached to hover lines,
and up into a sky of clouds they rose
toward helicopter blades and rough new lines
of wind that pushed against their frantic grips,
that tossed them back and forth so hard the lines
they held translated fears that lines would break
and they'd fall down into the restive lines
of churning waters that now rushed below
where they once were, below the whipping lines
of brutal wind, in little wave-tossed boats,
or even not in boats — they'd grabbed those lines
dropped from the whirrings in the troubled sky,
those lines they found cut hands — abrasive lines —
and though those lines saved lives, the airborne ones
soon found they needed more than one good line.
Watching the Sky
A waste of vapors in the air,
the morning's overcast blocked out
the sun and left a shadow on
the world, the darkness deepening,
and rain appeared: a mistlike drift
that soon turned thick when thunder struck —
a hard north wind now driving walls
of rain aslant, and thunder shook
the world again as wind kicked up.
The only question was if wind
and heat and counter-cold were strong
enough to make tornadoes form.
Hotter'n Hell Hundred
A heat inversion made the air seem close,
a quality of atmosphere that made
it hard to breathe, that made it hard to move
unless one moved somehow with speed against
the wind, for moving with the wind, one's back
to wind, made air so thick that breaths came hard,
as if in spite of speed the wind had died,
and I, in open sun, was biking in
to wind, then with the wind, and every breath
came like a gift, a hot lung-searing gift
that lifted me above the heat that pressed
me down, that leeched my legs of strength, that brought
a world of heavy weight upon my arms,
that blistered feet, the pedals stabbing at
my feet, my soles on fire — wind whipping me.
I'd biked already eighty miles but had
a score to go to cross the finish line.
Running at Night
I can't see the rocks
or the raccoons or skunks,
threats I might kick
when I run at night.
And now that the drought
has broken, are snakes —
rattlesnakes I mean —
still in the neighborhood?
The Wrong Way to Wheeler Peak
We left our mountain place before the air
turned hot, before the thinness of the air
scorched skin and scalded eyes, before
the sweet illusion of the place had torn
itself away and we came home to heat,
one-hundred-ten degrees of blistering heat
that weighted down our goatlike springy legs
that once had shuffled over rocky paths,
but we'd pressed on — we had a way to go
to reach the mountain top, a way to go
before we reached the place whose summit soared
above the levels of the other heights,
but we, we realized, had missed our route:
the path we took the wrong damn path, the place
we reached a rocky outcrop that almost
undid us when new rain made gravel slick,
and thunder said that lightning might strike close,
so down we climbed, and down we slid, so close
to falling that we cursed and twisted left
then right then left again as if our boots
were skis, as if our walking sticks could stop
the threat that we might plummet down and stop,
impaled on sticks or bruised and pierced by rock.
The Way the Weather Works
For two days cloudy skies and thunder rolls
have promised rain but no rains come.
Today the sky again was overcast
and wind this morning blew in from
the north, blew stiffly from the north,
but no rain came till mid-afternoon.
The western sky had just begun to clear
when lightly rain began to fall,
so lightly that its drift was hard to see,
if drift there was, and what rain came
was less than shower but more than mist.
Fall's first Grippe
Barreling wetly from the north,
a cold damp wind, hitting early today,
drove summer's last remnant away,
the ghost of August's scorch.
The sting of the wind biting bone
ground raggedly into my chest,
then below the realm of breath
it pressed my joints to stone.
Chilled, joints aching, I was shaking
then suddenly a flash of heat
swept like a wildfire through me,
its molten waves slapping me.
The wash of heat then drowning me,
all I could do was hope
that, falling asleep, I'd drop
below my shivering agony —
this turn of the world would maul me
and I'd blindly collapse unless I found
some way to seize a notion of heat
to warm myself illusorily, to beat
this cold that drills through skin and bone.
Dark Drifting Clouds
The air both heavy and still, a drift
of clouds came darkly in today.
The look of things threatening, though no clouds formed.
I stayed on point. I've watched tornadoes form.
I've seen quick lightning strikes. I've seen thick walls
of rain come down and fly sideways, the drive
of wind so hard I wondered what would break:
big limbs, electric lines, home walls, or what?
A wildness in the air can undo all.
Nineveh on Five Again
Nineveh, called Mosul now, is on fire again,
and day and night its skies are aflame again.
The worldly people I knew there were kind,
abut shocks from bombs have jolted them again.
Mosques and churches have exploded then sunk
aback into clay, back into sand again.
The place has been attacked and torched before,
but scourges keep assaulting it, again and again.
The clouds the explosions make seem abstract when
we mute, as we do, the bombs' noises again.
Buds, lore said long ago, burst into bloom
in the sky when rockets explode again and again.
But few plants bloom in this sky, and few survive
the war today — ashes blow about again.
Exiled from what once seemed so much like home,
I'm back again — I'm in my home again.
But part of me is still where Jonah went:
that great city where he heard God again.
The people there, and the king, repented then,
though Jonah turned sullen and angry again.
When I was there, the wind was high and hot —
of course, I thought that I was home again.
There was no need in me for sullenness:
Jonah and I had parted ways again.
The Changing Clouds
All day the clouds appeared then disappeared,
with restless sky becoming blue again,
then turning dark again, as if sky had
been bruised — but bruised, I have to ask, by what?
A darkness staining air now gave it weight,
a weight that brought a strain to back and neck
that night. All night, it seemed, the thunder rolled,
the forks of lightning striking roofs and trees.
But in the morning nothing seemed the least
bit scorched. Had lightning been then nothing more
than dream, a passing fantasy that kept
alive somehow an air of mystery,
a deep impression of a battered world?
Or was that battered world a fictive thing?
A Clown Show in the Sky
That hawk awhile ago was floating high
upon a current waving through the air
then suddenly its flight turned restless when
a scissortail took perch upon its neck
and started pecking at its shifting skull
to gather in a good fresh meal of lice.
The hawk's now flying desperately to rid
itself of this head-pecking passenger —
but clownlike, birds know how to play the wind,
no matter if the wind or hawk begins
to twist or dive or tilt or roll to shake
the nuisance off — those efforts all will fail.
I've seen these scissortails ride winds in ways
that look as if they're climbing walls,
as if they've rearranged the wind so they
can hang in air — they're conjurers that like
to ride bare-backed the backs of birds like this:
the talon-beaked, cold-eyed and fang-clawed hawk.
God made these big-winged birds, the smaller bird
suggests, to be fine toys for those of us
who love to ride the air on backs and necks
and heads of dangerous things like raptor birds
whose reputation for ferocity
is such a sweetly entertaining thing.
A Dimness in the Air
I like the way vast clouds obscure
the sky and stir cool breezes free.
I like the way a dimness in
the air can calmly settle me
and while that happens stir me free
from knotlike twists of blinding thought —
the world so often shadow-rich
that blindness might see more than sight.
I like the heights of temple roofs
that lift my gaze toward blinding glares
that make me wince and turn away,
the light too bright for open eyes,
but steeples are instructive things —
they help to make past present now —
the urge to see so much like sight
itself I see to see what sees.
I also like the fact of crypts
that lie below the praying place
because they turn my thoughts toward home,
toward sky, back to the living past
where hymns I've sung now sound in me,
and finding voice again they sound
the depths in me that I don't see
until closed eyes bring shadows near.
Excerpted from Soon After Rain by James Hoggard. Copyright © 2015 James Hoggard. Excerpted by permission of Wings 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.
Table of Contents
Soon After Rain 2
Late Afternoon Rain 3
Touching Different Worlds 4
Bull Riding at the Atkeisons' Ranch 6
Leaving the Lincoln Memorial 7
Heat Break 9
This Alien Place Called Home 10
Summer Floods 11
Watching the Sky 13
Hotter'n Hell Hundred 14
Running at Night 15
The Wrong Way to Wheeler Peak 16
The Way the Weather Works 17
Fall's First Grippe 18
Dark Drifting Clouds 20
Nineveh, on Fire Again 21
The Changing Clouds 23
A Clown Show in the Sky 24
A Dimness in the Air 25
Low Clouds, Dark 26
The Rhythms of Rain 27
Walking Where Nineveh Was 28
Beyond the Town 30
A Contradictory Brightness 32
The Spears of Zeus 33
Sky Over Knossos 36
Odysseus Sowing Salt 38
The Draw of the Other 46
A Curious Man 47
Our Friends Son 49
IV The Artemisia Sutte
A Finely Cold Will 52
Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting 53
Susanna and the Elders 54
Corsica and the Satyr 56
The Sensual Miracle 58
Bats in Havana 60
Seasonal Changes 62
When Four Tornadoes Joined 64
A Difficult June 65
Mountain Butterfly 66
Summer's First Rain 68
A Long, Hard Wind 69
A Massive Stillness 71
In the Lobby 72
Summer Ordeal 74
Last Night's Derecho 75
Father-Son Talk 76
First Freeze 77
A Terror Fills the Air 78
The Old Model 79
Memories of Mosul 80
About the Author 83