Neil Shepard

Contributor Biography

Neil Shepard’s eighth book, How It Is: Selected Poems, was published in 2018 by Salmon Poetry (Ireland). His sixth and seventh books of poetry were published in 2015: Hominid Up (Salmon Poetry), and a full collection of poems and photographs, Vermont Exit Ramps II (Green Writers Press, Vermont).  His poems appear in several hundred literary magazines, among them Harvard Review, New England Review, Paris Review, Southern Review, and Sewanee Review, as well as online at Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Poem-A-Day (from the Academy of American Poets). Shepard has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland, and he has been a visiting writer at the Chautauqua Writers Institute, The Frost Place, and Ossabaw Island Writers Retreat. He founded and directed for eight years the Writing Program at the Vermont Studio Center; he also founded the literary magazine Green Mountains Review and was the Senior Editor for a quarter-century. He taught for many years in the BFA writing program at Johnson State College (VT) and in the MFA writing program at Wilkes University (PA). He currently splits his time between Vermont and New York City, where he teaches poetry workshops at Poets House.

Easter at Whedons

     for Tony and Suzanne

Digging for Jerusalem artichoke
and horseradish root in a sunlit patch
where spring snows have melted clear.
The earth soft for the taking,
I dig down here because the pain
has not stopped, has buried me
in a drifting, white uncertainty,
a swirl that rages and does not die,

until I cannot live another minute
with Millet’s “Laughing Girls”
half-veiled in the shadows of my home,
giggling into courtyards full of light
to whatever suitors wave beyond the frame;
cannot live with the wandering Jew
tangled in a brown mat of neglect,
the jade jaded with a surfeit of sun,
and the home and family I had dreamed
with her, gone.

I come to Whedons’ house
because they will not have me Easter alone.
Hours ago we soaked salt from the ham,
scalloped potatoes, baked bread
we will break together in another hour—
and then off to dig these offerings,
roots and tubers fresh from winter.

We walk their twenty acres,
rehearsing this season of plenty—
mark the hummocks and brooks rising,
the moss rising and the bog rising,
tadpoles and water beetle swelling,
the white larvae too numerous to count
swelling like stars in a dark pool.
I eat the root in my hand until the water

of my eyes is confused and pain has suddenly a taste.
I gnaw at tubers, dirt and all,
their buttery, nutty flavor that heals
the tongue of its wounds,
the flavor of having lasted
all winter beneath the earth, under the good graces
of the snows, under death’s small matter
of leaves and grasses. And still whole
at the next turning of the earth.
I cradle these roots in my hands,
note the blood from digging, blood
under my nails, in the creases
of my marrying lines, along the knuckles
scraped raw.

To the berry bushes
returning with their red scars and bulges,
we do a sun-old dance. We test
the winter-surviving timbers
that will rise in a new wood shed,
spin the water wheel that with snowmelt
will generate its one watt of light.
And we rehearse the divorce
to come—how I will swallow whatever grief
has ham as its first salt-washed course,
and bitter herbs, and bread broken
from the whole loaf with friends.

Night in their cabin, we listen
to the waters curling around the foundation,
small waterfalls stumbling among the stones,
sacring bells of sound to wash pain
smooth as silt. Evening rumbles from the west,
thunderheads worrying a path across the sloping dell
until we imagine by the fire-lit last course
of dinner how our cabin is an ark,
with its kerosene lanterns swinging port and starboard,
its pairs of dogs and cats, its couple of proprietors,
and their one guest casting for an olive branch,
as we float down the swale to Route 118,
clear to the heart of Montgomery Center.
 

Mid-Winter Thaw, Vermont:
A Visit from My Wife

Since she is coming
and she will be cold
even on a winter day
when it soars to forty,
I go down to the woodpile
and pull up a few bottom logs.

With thaw, they’ve come unstuck,
uncased from the ice. There’s unexpected
green beneath them, a stunned
green stuck to the bark’s puzzling design.

When she comes, the sun
will start again toward a dipping hour,
our love continue its descent
into bittersweet friendship.
We might even lie together
in the sleep of the long settled,
might feed off the fat of some sweetness
we tasted together in the past,

before an avalanche drops from a bough,
icicles melt clear to extinction,
and whatever new green is coming, comes.

Simon Peter Eggertsen 

Contributor Biography

Simon Peter Eggertsen was born in Kansas, raised in Utah, schooled in Virginia and England, has degrees in literature, language and law. He recently retired from a career of teaching and work in international public health and now lives in Montreal. He came late to poetry. His verses have been published in Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry, Vallum (Canada), Atlanta Review, and Ekphrasis. His poems won the Irreantum Prize for Poetry (2012) and others have been finalists for numerous prizes, including the Neruda, the Frost, the Fish and the Bridport.  

Riddles Natascha Scribbled on the Wall +

I remember a house where all were good to me. . . .                         

                                                          —Gerard Manley Hopkins

It is so quiet in here
in this house with no roof
It is so quiet in here
in this house with no floors
It is so quiet in here
in this room with no walls

If only there were a trunk, 
where sounds of others could be heard.

Where have I come from?

 


It is so dark in here
in this house with no windows
It is so dark in here
in this room with no doors

If only there were a wardrobe 
where light could shine

What am I doing here?
           

It is so cold in here
in this house with no foundation
It is so cold in here
in this room with no ceiling

If only there were a place 
where the warmth of others could be felt

Where am I going?

It is so lonely here
in this house with no family
It is so lonely here
in this room with no guests

If only there were a room 
where children could come to play

I live in this house
I live in this room

It is so quiet in here
It is so dark in here
It is so cold in here
It is so lonely in here

If only there were a space 
where my feelings could be expressed

 


I wait for the sound
I wait for the light
I wait for the warmth
I wait for the child
I wait for my feelings
       


                                                                         New York, October 2005  

Author's Note:

+ First, for Natascha Kampusch, who was abducted in Austria at age eight only to escape at age eighteen and, by extension, for Elisabeth Fritzl (Austria) and Jaycee Dugard (California), who suffered similarly, and even bore the children of their captor, in Elisabeth’s case her own father. Then there are the three young women in Ohio sequestered and abused for years by Ariel Castro. And Elizabeth Smart in Utah. What is it about Austria? California? Ohio and Utah? 

This Once, Let’s Take the High Road


This once, let’s take the high road, the mountain road 
to the people of Taos. But first we must stop at Cimayó, 
its litany full of lisping Spanish catholicism,

 

not so far from the Sangre de Christo. We go there first 
to reflect, genuinely, for a minute, or an hour, or longer, 
the spirit will whisper the time to us. We know what 

we will find: soft sacramental accent, clear; a mud-smoothed, 
healing church, brown; a masquerade of holy spirit pigeons—
white and blue-barred tumblers; and, a health replenishing earth, 

the tierra bendita, an offer of soothing, carried away a spoonful 
at a time or ziplocked in ‘doggie” bags by those who have faith to seek.  
It is enough for us this day to be carried away to the spirit calm 

of the tree chapel—over the wall of farmland stones, 
down the ease of the hill at the back. There is a day trip’s 
worth here: simple, flat benches, laid out in good, strong, 

straight lines, angled into sergeant’s stripes, hold the stone edges 
of an Offret-like altar, clothed in winter white, accented in summer red, 
all in the cool of early spring shade. As at Wildwood, we would 

attend a service here without qualm, never mind the dogma 
of the day. As at Wildwood, the place itself sips at our 
ascending murmurs, even if no one else is here, or there.  

But it is better here. There are always those silly white-shirted 
Edgemont men at Wildwood disturbing our quiet praise, criticizing 
our prayers, the order of our words, trying to correct our kneeling, 

and our dress, making us more formal than we need to be.  
Their priestly tie-badged authority plunges down earthward for all to see. 
God must be embarrassed to see them in his Nature!  


They should learn to kartchner to the meet, that’s the more honest way,
any day of the week. Better for us, then we could be in charge of our own 
quiet worship, as we are this day. Someone laid a blessing hand on us in Santa Fe.

                                                                                 Santa Fe, April 1998