October Poetry Monday: Phil Timpane

Dropped on:October 2, 2012
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POETRY MONDAY: October 1, 2012

Phil Timpane

Here’s a poet whose work I think you’ll find interesting. I first encountered Phil Timpane’s poems at a group reading hosted by the excellent ( and relatively new) literary magazine, Upstreet, and have had the opportunity to hear him read many times since. His poems have also appeared in a number of other journals, and in 2007 he had the distinction of receiving the Atlanta Review’s International Publication Award.

Raised in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts, Phil studied English at Boston College and received a degree in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He lives with his wife and family in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where he works as a building contractor and, as he says, “designs and builds new poems.”

This kind of day job is not unusual for serious artists in the Berkshires. We know at least two other contractors who are well-published poets and another who is an Equity actor. The bookcases in my own home were designed and built by a Juilliard graduate. Although they all drive pick-ups for their work, none of them, as far as I know, is running for office.

The three poems below by Phil Timpane are all as yet unpublished.

Irene Willis
Poetry Editor


Better Half

I know I’m blind to the better half
of all you do in our world of invisible forces
how you stretch to hold us all together
shrink to see to the smallest nuclear task
I know one day one way or another
I may be forced to find out once it’s too late to ask
which god requires my sacrifice for the secret of crisp linen
the recurring miracle of the evening meal
which obscure journal features the secret
formulas for fortitude and healing of the sick
what mountaintop I have to climb  
on my knees at the feet of a wizard trained
in the marital art of embrace and attack
front and back of nurture and career

Unable to master myself
even the creasing of fitted sheets
I’ll be at best bumpkinesque
another tolerated character about town
unless of course I’ve gone and left you
with yet another chore at my bequest
dusting every now and then my dust
or tending to the very last
hole I’ve managed to dig myself into

Bony Soil

She had just buried her pet of fifteen years
on the hill behind the house
a steep climb that starts out hard
up against a late morning facing wall
ends at the lip of the old gravel-yard
no one has had a mind to mine in years

We stood side by side on the concrete-slab porch
passing smokes and memories back and forth
tears and smiles clunking into one another
a kind of granite therapy at times like these
practicing the speech of loss
trying not to chip a tooth on one of its sour stones
anything that might mortify a future smile

Talk turning at last to last night’s bonfire
set to thaw a familiar patch of open ground
scratching away at the morning’s
shallow roots and charred detritus
getting down together to paw-able earth
the digging hard but no small boulders
nothing bigger than a human heart pried
fist-sized with the short-handled shovel’s iron blade

Not getting hit until I’d spit them out
by the impact of the words I’d said –bony soil–
a common enough phrase in the digging trades
the implication of its origins a split-second delayed
traveling at the speed of sorrow between us
No matter she was only a dog caught up in only a saying
it hammered home what could never be taken back
no words fine or coarse enough to bury
the small perfectly still body of pain
                                                                             for Sid, Jonah, Piggy and their Girls

Antidepressant– Take Three Sips and Call it a Poem

Drink the tea slowly in three sips with a short
pause between each one to savor the taste  
Brief Manner On Japanese Tea Ceremony

Only two things deliver me from the specter of early depression–
Poetry and Tea

on a crisp morning

sunlight slanting across the random-
width birch plank floor

my love on bended knees seiza-style
beneath a wood-fired vase of mountain laurel

Our kids’ faces beaming
from the tinted plaster walls
almost the same green as the rolled leaves
shooting the breeze outside the corner room’s
bank of double-hung windows
ceiling to floor

a scroll or two unrolled 
to mark the season in linked image and verse
a copy of Ikkyu spread-eagled on the matted straw
what the poet describes
as wind in the pines
whispering from the antique Japanese kettle
the sound of water fresh from our private well
roiling inside the cast-iron chrysanthemum relief

just before it waterfalls from the dipped bamboo ladle
to the finely powdered macha tea crushed
from first tender shoots of shrubs
blushing just outside Kyoto
sheltered from the vagaries of weather
by a canopy of gauzed mesh woven and staked
by peasant hands as the story goes
content to be exposed
cracking to the tao of work and weather

an un-mortgaged roof over our own heads

garden view

to the pond

under the weeping cherry and French lilac

song birds ushering in our repeat subscription
to the season of flute and pipes and drum

strum of the manicured woods that wraps our porch-wrapped home
sloping off to the banks of Alford Brook
just before its confluence with the Green
sole source of our small New England town’s pre-chlorinated drink
not to mention its stocked rainbows
and browns to be fished by the great blue herons
flying low and silent through the haze
of our caffeine inspired verse

depending on nothing
but the imagination

and forgetting

three sips
and gone




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