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Delaware Poetry Review

George Kalamaras

ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE

—for Kate Wolf


Whether it was the Kingston Trio
or the Weavers who feathered
your voice. Whether it was Dylan
or the Beatles, Merle Haggard and Lefty Frizzell,

you always knew how to talk to me
as if through your albums we shared a cup
of tea. You left your husband and children in ‘71
to live in Sonoma six months

in your ’57 Chevy. Anyone can write a song,
Jellyroll Turner and George Shroder had said,
Just sit down and sing your conversations. Which is
what you did, Kate, pressing your finger

blister right into me. How you touched my insides,
miles away, where no one had been. I sat in Colorado
where you made me bleed. Owl Records. Your night-shift voice,
just as far west as Hank Williams, just as crunch and dust

as Utah Phillips. Soon you got them back, your two kids
(with your red-tail hawk voice), and you made a life, writing
for the Sebastopol Times, jamming with your band,
The Wildwood Flower. I sat up nights with you on my knee,

holding the album spread of your soft-as-sassafras face, yarrow-stalk
hair, your lyrics rocking my chair. But that wasn’t till ’82.
How’d you know the well-depths of my any-human-pain?
It wasn’t till you came to Fort Collins in ‘81

where I missed your show, not knowing it was you
all those years I needed to bleed. Like leeches
from the cold gold of California hills,
I might place you on my back and let the healing

breathe. I might place your songs there too,
that run from “Unfinished Life”
about fire that burned on the lake. In straight
and broken lines, it was an I-Ching hexagram,

and Conflict was its name. Please, Kate, teach me
how to give back the broken and the whole. Parts of myself
are gone and parts remain. Part of you is bone
and part cremains. When Mary Ann and I listen

a quarter century away, as far east now as Indiana,
you burn us, still, with what you gave,
with what your leukemia tried to take.
I am twenty-seven again and up all night in the wet,

edging through eelgrass that completes the owl’s
third rib, slow to form when it dives each night for mice,
when it dives for something warm and blood,
for a song from your throat, for a way to stay alive.

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~

LISTENING TO RAMATAM AFTER THIRTY-FIVE YEARS

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SO WE CAN TEACH OURSELVES NOT TO BLEED

—for Sandy Denny


I don’t know if I ever walk
down a narrow stair without thinking
of you, Sandy, or cut myself, mildly,
and watch my finger bleed.

Your voice is great and awful
and gifts us. To be full of awe
when I turn to wash a fork, a glass,
run my fear along the rim, the warm

edge of the knife, and calibrate
your less-than-half-a-life. Thirty-one years
is younger than some bars of soap, younger,
even, than a middle-aged tortoise by a couple decades.

Your songs held something of your pain,
your ancient sway—your British folk voicing a past
when we could easily step into a pile of 15th century
manure and die of staph. You sat with a candle

by your breast, burning centuries back
so we could hear our years in what we hoped
to one day become. How the death of a horse
from four centuries before might be lodged there, quietly,

in our nerve-endings, then stir one morning
when the car refuses to start, when we take a moment
to hear a nickering as we caress the glue,
when we mistakenly step on a pump-house ant

and beg forgiveness for the blind depths of our step.
But I am no Jain monk, Sandy, sweeping free
the unsuspecting dirt, no Lancashire abbot-scribe,
no Privy Counsel mending the candle’s wax.

Let’s “Meet on the Ledge,” as you say,
eat bowls of cold stone soup
at the table of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens,
fierce it out with Lear, with an insolent hand-maiden,

and feel the scruff of our gathered past
so we can teach ourselves how not to bleed.
Inside, Sandy. Where the how and why and in what way
of your voice is great and awful and gifts us.



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About the Poet


George Kalamaras is the author of six books of poetry, four of which are full-length, Gold Carp Jack Fruit Mirrors (The Bitter Oleander Press, forthcoming 2008), Even the Java Sparrows Call Your Hair (Quale Press, 2004), Borders My Bent Toward (Pavement Saw Press, 2003), and The Theory and Function of Mangoes (Four Way Books, 2000). He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.