Jack B. Bedell – Four Poems
Stranded in our yard
by backwash of river
and a foot of rain,
a snapping turtle rolls
on its shell, perpetual
as if fallen in a dream.
Its claws cannot find river bottom
for purchase, and nothing
in the sea foam of leaves
gathering around its body
can satisfy its chomping jaws.
No wind to carry it
where it must go, no light
bright enough to dry this mess,
no brother, this storm.
—an Acadian folk tale
The old man should not be met
at water’s edge.
He will come inland,
follow you back home
Always leave him to his thoughts,
the heron’s cry.
Wanderer no bog or hollow
the old man hasn’t crossed.
His hunger pulls him around,
bottomless, ready to consume a man’s weight.
Never try to feed his demands
or give him reason to cast spells.
There’s not enough rice in the field
nor chickens in the coop
to fill the hole in his gut.
Do not confuse his wanting with need.
The nature of the marsh
is to take things in,
interlace water and reed,
heat and sound,
stranger and friend.
The old man, though,
and we are all mullet
in his world.
A Trick of Light
I thought I saw a chinchilla
escaped from my uncle’s cages
dart across our backyard—
silver against dead grass,
fat, unable to move
in straight lines.
It could easily have been worry
scurrying between bare spots
in the sod, drawing
attention to work undone,
to promises I’ve failed to keep.
Could’ve been fear
scuttling from tuition bills
to poor decisions
left strewn about the yard,
unkempt. Of course,
it could have been bad light,
or nothing much at all.
All of Us, and None
My father sleeps in the downstairs study
when he stays with us on weekends.
He prays out loud to himself each night
before he goes to bed.
The first time
my sons heard him, they pulled me
out of the shower naked and dripping
because they thought he’d finally lost
his mind. The more we listened, though,
the more we heard his tone had sense.
Sometimes the rhythm of his speech
grows quick, and his pitch rises like a child
running inside to say he’s set a fire;
sometimes the words come low and in bursts,
as if, after a game, he’s telling me
he’s seen me miss an open man
to throw some useless deep ball
My boys believe now
he’s speaking to God, that his prayers
prepare him somehow to rest at the end
of our long days. I know that could be
true. Lord, I’ve said those prayers myself!
My daughter says she knows for sure
he’s talking to my mother because she’s there
in his bed some nights to join in.
I’ve heard my father’s voice enough
without listening to his words
to know he’d never waste that much
breath on one person.
Whatever he’s saying,
it’s meant for all of us, and none.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
I try to remind myself daily that beauty isn’t a rare commodity. It’s around me everywhere. And not only in literature, art, music, and dance. There’s real beauty in the way my daughter does her homework, the sounds my sons make playing in the back yard, how my wife gets ready for her next day’s work. Every New Year’s Eve, I make it my resolution to find that beauty, to find the good, in every day. As a writer, my goal is to honor that goodness. My poems are tributes to that beauty, archives to hold on to it as long as I can. Sometimes those moments hit me in the chest like heart punches; sometimes they whisper in my ear with sounds just like my mother’s voice during bedtime stories. It’s my responsibility as a writer to get them all down as often and as accurately as possible so they share well, and for lifetimes.
Jack B. Bedell is currently a Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edit Louisiana Literature and direct the Louisiana Literature Press. His latest collection is Bone-Hollow, True: New & Selected Poems published by Texas Review Press (a member of the Texas A&M Press Consortium). His work has appeared in the Southern Review, Hudson Review, Southern Quarterly, and Terrain.org. He was recently appointed by Governor John Bel Edwards to serve as Louisiana State Poet Laureate, 2017-2019. Twitter: @jackbedell