READ LOCAL First is your glimpse into the working minds and hearts of Utah’s literary writers. Each month, 15 Bytes offers works-in-progress and / or recently published work by some of the state’s most celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary non-fiction and memoir.
Today, 15 Bytes features Ogden-based Brad L. Roghaar who provides here four as yet unpublished poems. His latest manuscript, A Simple Stand of Aspen Trees, the title poem of which is included below, is a collection of works dealing with places of retrieval.
Sunday Blog Read continues to accrue a distinguished group of established and emerging Utah writers for your review and enjoyment.
So curl up with your favorite cup of joe and enjoy the work of Brad!
BENEATH A STAND OF ASPEN
There is a small stand of aspen trees,
not too far from where you live,
not far from the room that defines
your dreams—neither opening nor closing—
where you sleep all clothed
within your own warm breath.
This closed gathering of trees
is the living narrative
of its own growth
and, therefore, must do for our own.
You may choose to follow this small story.
You may choose to slip from the crease
of your muted dream,
to arrive, as you might do again,
at this place—this stand of aspen trees.
Here you have seen the dry leaves fall
each year, after year, with the regularity
of all thin but persistent memories.
You have watched as if this falling, alone,
were a certain center of reference—
as if this falling could cradle
the accidents that make our lives.
You may wish to follow the leaf back
through the certainty that is its flight,
back to its phloemic origin,
to its abandoned point of attachment.
Here, after the leaf is gone,
remains the unmistakable scarring—
the cicatrice—the loud evidence
that the leaf was there—
that we are here.
And when the snow comes
and softens the entire world,
it softens this same aspen grove,
gathers on the ground and seeps beneath it
with the purity of what you suspected
Your mother is buried here,
and your father is buried here,
and all your issue after you
already know the depth of loam
regenerated each year, after year,
one layer atop another, spread out
like a warm woven blanket.
Beneath this familiar ground,
beneath this snow,
beneath the simple grace of this stand of aspen,
all precious bones are gathered, protected,
And when this story moves through spring,
when the growth is full and green;
this ground of burial,
this place of healing,
this center of retrieval gives up
its own warm nature:
Here in this small stand of aspen
the dark and waiting leaves,
high above the ground,
turn their gauzed and muted underside,
green, in the slow breeze of the morning.
They vibrate, these small leaves, tuning forks
of your too short tenure here.
Like a slim sequined party dress,
they hold the promise of all your desire—
these leaves shimmer here in the light.
All good mornings might begin here,
in this particular stand and reach of trees—
this small and solitary world
of white and green, of black and yellow.
What a Small Voice, at Once Lost, Might Tell Us
Dark nights—we all have them.
But at those times (when they bleed into day
and become indistinguishable) how can we believe
they will ever leave?
Any small creature caught and alone
will begin to chew.
We forget about a river’s bank—how it gives
to what must be a terrifying erosion
before it becomes its new self,
shining in the comfort of its water-speak.
We are strange creatures—how our need
for others never waxes nor leaves.
We all remember how we once needed to hear
a particular voice (though we could not name it),
and how we waited for it in that dark.
Sometimes this is our miracle: to hear that voice—
or more—to speak it to another.
Alone will find its wanted place—
we need not help it to our own.
If we were not so closed, could we not know loneliness
in some other way, would we not then burst open
in our own appointed season?
Would we not be whole—both provider and provided for.
Who are we to miss even one single flower
wishing to bloom?
Let there be more than commerce between us.
Let us talk, one to another:
we should not cover our windows at night,
no thin and makeshift blanket of convenience.
Let us make our reach warm and heavy with words.
We sometimes believe there are no words that will do,
that all rivers pass by all too quickly.
But this is not true—always the words pool
around our tongues—open.
Let us provide the soft, still pools in the river.
COMING CLEAN WITH AGE
Okay, it’s time to come clean,
pared to the truth
like a white slice of apple
held under a kitchen tap.
I have not come to what I could be,
have not opened my own ribs
and offered up a beating viscera
that seems even close to
a metamorphosis of beauty—
or even an approximation—any flower in bloom.
“When I was young, I was young.”
What more can be said of that?
We are all lacking—brought up short—
we often do no good.
But nothing comes close to the abandonment
of pity—hearing that call and mistaking that voice
as nothing but nothingness.
I cannot say that I have not taken my pleasure
being above it all—my own approximation of god—
running across the desert floor on all fours, sniffing
what I would and leaving what I wished.
And let there be no mistake:
there are things left dreadfully damaged—
left like refuse in a plastic bag
to heat and feed upon itself
—waiting for a puncture.
But this might be far too harsh.
Life opens in the same way—
punctual and random
and reaching for air out of a bag of blood and salt—
and more, it holds—even in the desert.
“When we were young, we were young.”
What more can be said of this?
I believe in forgiveness—
the dark grave of the world resurrected,
made new each morning,
forgiven as bread to wheat
as juice to berry—the thrashings and stompings—
one thing made into another—
everything forgiving the change
far before it makes itself complete.
ONE LONG SEASON
It is true that every heart breaks
breaks more than once
insistent and absolutely
faithful to each breaking
curiously alone and childless
dropped whole into the empty abyss
of the hollow breast.
You might recall the clear crack of dry wood
the smoke of that sound so heavy in the air
that odor so pure and something like cedar
like cedar but much more brittle.
Perhaps the heart breaks like buried bitter-root
if there is such a thing
if it could be dug up and dried
as clean and white
as a cracked femur in the desert.
The heart is a full and lumpy bag
come loose at the stitching
and tossed into a corner
where many things are spilled out
rattling and hissing upon the floor.
It is all and always unfinished business
seeds in the wind
leaves on the surface of the frozen ground
the hard ground of breaking and healing
breaking and healing.
Both insistent and indistinguishable
they follow each other so closely
like tiny fish this marriage of break and heal
break and heal.
It is just one long season
the heart and its blood
the pod and its sticky milk
released to heal itself.
Copyright, Brad L. Roghaar, 2014 (used with permission)
Brad L. Roghaar is Professor Emeritus at Weber State University where he taught literature and creative writing for over 30 years. He was Editor of the nationally award-winning humanities journal Weber Studies: voices and viewpoints of the contemporary west for seven years, and he founded and directed the English Department’s Creative Writing Emphasis.
Roghaar’s poetry has appeared in several journals and magazines including “Utah Arts,” “BYU Studies,” “Expremier,” and Utah Centennial Anthology of our Best Writers. His first book, Unraveling the Knot: Poems of Connection, won the Pearle M. Olsen award, and he was named Utah Poet of the Year.
As a life-long admirer of America’s own Mark Twain, he has appeared at several public events as a decent facsimile (with wig) of the author—a role that he relishes. He welcomes correspondence at firstname.lastname@example.org
Past featured writers in 15 Bytes’ Sunday Blog Read: Katharine Coles, Michael McLane, Darrell Spencer, Larry Menlove, Christopher Bigelow, Shanan Ballam, Steve Proskauer, April Wilder, Calvin Haul, Lance Larsen, Joel Long, Lynn Kilpatrick, Phyllis Barber, David Hawkins, Nancy Takacs, Mike Dorrell, Susan Elizabeth Howe, and Star Coulbrooke.