POETRY MONDAY: October 7, 2013

Dropped on:October 14, 2013
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Hilary Russell

Hilary Russell is the author of a chapbook of poems, Giving up the House (Mad River Press), The Anthology of American Poetry (Wayside Press), The Portable Writer  (Wayside Press), and, in a different mode, Building Skin-on-Frame Double Paddle Canoes (Berkshire Boat Building School Press). His poems have appeared in journals such as Ploughshares, Boulevard, The Beloit Poetry Review and George Washington Review.

Perhaps because he lived for thirteen years in rural Pennsylvania, where he hunted and fished with local people and loved both the land and the language, many of his poems are set in a fictitious town in Chester County, PA.His alter ego later became chair of the English Department of Berkshire School in Western Massachusetts, where he also ran outing and camping groups, taught a course on Walden for several years and led students in the building
of a replica, (including chimney, plastered walls and furniture), of Thoreau’s Walden Pond “house.”

Since 1997 his creative work has focused as much on boat-building as on poetry –which harks back to his heritage; he is from a New York City shipbuilding family. If we let him talk to you, he would tell you more about it, including the way in which he joins Celtic, Inuit, North American Indian and modern technologies, but instead, we will let you read some of his work. Here are three poems by Hilary Russell, the first from his sophisticated present self, the next two – well, you will see.”


Anticleia’s Love

Like sex, retirement’s over-rated.
Not that you and your buddies playing cards
is exactly Agamemnon and Achilles in Hell,
but you do have a good fire down there
and your faces look redder than ever.
Not as though some Odysseus off work
will spot you from a high window
or from the head of the stone stairs
shake his bushy head
and think, Oh, the poor son of a bitch.
No! People like him think you’re lucky.
“Retired! Well, that’s wonderful. Congratulations.
After all these years you’ve …” What?

No. But retirement is like sex:
You look forward to it too much –
sometimes to the point of distraction.
You have precocious friends who do it
years before you even dream of it.
You have friends who don’t seem
to think of it at all – like cool fourth graders
who could finger-paint forever in their art-
class smocks. Perfect people.

And when you start, you like to dress the part,
buy the clothes, get the equipment,
travel in packs with your own age group.
I remember my father’s line to me
when I was fourteen:
“The position is ridiculous,
and the pleasure is only momentary.”
Then, a little repulsively, he rounded his lips,
wet his cigar, and blew a smoke ring.

So now with your new set of clubs
you’re a little stooped and your neck,
sagging so you want to wear a turtleneck.
“You’ll gain weight,” my mother said to me once,
then you’ll lose it!” What a thing from your mother!
What did Anticleia say to Odysseus? She said,
“My son! My son! The unluckiest of men!”
and then told him in spades the consequences,
everything that love in death can tell.


Lost, House Hunting

You stumble on this broken-down place cheap,
six small rooms and two acres. You can see
he’s out behind the house asleep,
himself on the rusted army cot
he brought home from the Redman Auction
Sale. Tan and drunk as August, he rises
and guides you through his house, carrion
of scaling paint and rancid plaster, the hide
he tucked his whisky pints inside. You poke
your pen into a rotting joist and ask him if
the well runs dry.

“Just Sundays.”

Then you know
you’ll plaster walls, replace the joists, and fix
the floors. You walk the line, drink his beer,
and ask, “Now how do I get home from here?”


Living Too Close to the Road

Since we need to duck through every door
and the L’s so slumped it wallows loose
in a week of wet and since the barn’s splayed
stance is just as geriatric as the house,
my wife thinks that without a hip-roofed porch
the place looks like a choo-choo train.
She has the painter’s eye for balanced parts
and I’ve construction on the brain.
So I get my flat bar, cat’s paw, hammer,
sledge, and 2×4’s, prop the old porch roof,
kick the posts out, worry up the rotting floor,
and sledge apart the sills for proof
by eye the awkwardness of porchlessness.
e know the upstairs windows rest
so low they pinch the roof pitch one to twelve.
We say beside this dog-kill road
we’d never sit, despite a fresh-paint floor,
two rockers, and green screendoor.

–from Giving up the House.
Richmond, MA.  Mad River Press

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