Blue Fifth Reviews – Tribute to Walter Bjorkman (November 2015 / #4)
Any conscientious critic who has ever had to review a new volume of poetry in a limited space knows that the only fair thing to do would be to give a series of quotations without comment but, if he did so, his editors would complain that he was not earning his money.
–W. H. Auden, “Reading”
Each month the editors select collections of poetry, flash, and short fiction to present to our readers. We will be heeding Auden’s advice, listing, without comment, key passages that we consider representative of the featured works. Our hope is that readers will also be moved, and will seek out the books.
This month, we dedicate the Blue Fifth Reviews page to Walter Bjorkman, who passed away on October 8, 2015. Walter was a poet and story-teller, often drawing on his own life experiences to paint memorable images from the past. He was also active in the literary community, most recently as Managing Editor of A Minor Press. His many other contributions included his stint as editor and designer for Thrush Poetry, his work as the mad mind behind the brief literary farce Voices and his immeasurable input as the design editor of the 52|250 project. Maybe you met him at one of those venues; maybe you read his work at Fictionaut. Or maybe you saw him in one of the many online journals where his work appeared over the years. He was prolific and enthusiastic and, besides being a creative writer, he was also a friend with a good heart.
Walter loved nature and poetry, words and the thrum of life – with its highs and lows. His emails were bursting with his personality, from backyard encounters with deer and dragonflies to reminiscences from Brooklyn or Norway’s distant shores. We hope you’ll enjoy this visit with Walter, and we are honored to have known him and his creative energy. Our hearts go out to his brother Allan and his son Donovan.
From Strand by Walter Bjorkman
2015; more here.
you awake and it’s nine past your time, nothing to do but drive where
disturbed people stand by the side of the road holding hands with
themselves and staring at the
headlights as they eat the gravel, walk into the field muttering about
odometers and not caring, splashing neon lights on their stones and
watering hydrangeas till sick rants
of madmen cease only when no one listens, water flows sideways when
nobody looks and the sky is yellow when dylan sings when it is.
your dam with no water behind it is a burst of sand, leaving phrases in
an empty river bed. my sun hides in the valley, dawn in another
continent. i feel the calf give birth to its mother, a cloud rejoices.
square flames shoot from the rooftop, sniping at my scavenger dog’s
feet. below the bakery truck smells of corked wine, and wet
newspapers on porches. your hand reaches for rusted words, a tugboat
creaks, the harbor groans, weary with mold. i lie inside the floorboards,
waiting to see the foster moon’s child.
i am hidden in a city garden of milkweed
unseen by gypsies who gamble in alleys
who talk to you through fire escape walls
through bricks bleeding mortar,
as chrysanthemums hang
from window box lies
tattooed rocks below the surface lie awake for seeds
prairie dogs behind us begin morning screams
we sit on nervous banks, fall shivering in sun
to sunken beaches voiceless from below
beneath rivers of silverfish lie bottles of wine
tasted by troubadours with reeds natives made
we watch in dark-eyed awe, serpents living lies
of often sought scars years ago
sweetwater entering pores of sight
green floating insects enticing cry
walking in opium skies, sipping velveteen
in drunken boots of spanish sailors
(from “western front”)
in the desert there is a petrified winged duchess
that has never flown aloft or sat on a throne
she waits for me to return her to flesh
i am not that pure
( from “contralto”)
from Elsie’s World by Walter Bjorkman
2013; more here
I stole a quince from the gardens at The Cloisters. Leaned over the wrought iron fence and my fingers couldn’t reach so I sipped on my toes to try to snatch the forbidden fruit. I thought about trying to squeeze through two posts, the quince was hanging low, but the red lights flashing the sirens blaring the adults chuckling the crowbar working the other kids humiliating laughter forever the memory once sealed now opened I wasn’t going to be caught red-handed there, the spaldeen of youth left on the bough.
(from “Quince Orchard”)
It was the summer of sixty-five. I was seventeen, had a second-cousin of twenty, of magnificent pulchritude and some bucks. She owned a fire red Mustang convertible, would pick me up on days off, with her magnificent girlfriend, blonde hair waving in the sun, and, with a lucky friend of my choosing, we’d drive off to Riis Park beach, listnin’ to the Beatles and Beach Boys on the way, then put our blanket down next to The Fugs, the Anti-beach boys. Later our friends would show up from their 90-minute bus ride from the steam of the city streets. They had to go home the same way, sunburned and tortured with sand in their crotch, while we enjoyed the cool breezes from the open ragtop.
But that is not what this is about – this was war. Civil, foreign and personal identity war.
(from “Watts Burns, I Save the World From Destruction and Have Fries With That”)
Uh-oh Eddie thought, now what? He was just caring for the critters as a favor to Chalky who was down somewhere in the Caribbean, trying to find a woman he saw in a PBS documentary that he fell in love with. The snakes were two Coral snakes that Chalky snatched out of the Everglades last spring. They are venomous, but Chalky assured Eddie that they didn’t bite unless mishandled, as if Eddie knew how to handle a snake.
(from “Marzy Gets Even”)
Tante Emma and Tante Anna, pronounced ah-na, kept a dress shop on a side street just off the main artery, Lapskaus Avenue, known to outsiders as Eighth Avenue, in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn…
Tante Emma and Tante Anna, always spoken in that order, never Tante Anna and Tante Emma, were always draped in black to ankles, but not always in the gunny-sack raiment of the typical Tante or Bestemor…
The dress shop was a storefront less travelled, away from the bustle of pastry shops, meat and fish markets, a dusty windowed enclave housing a lone black dress on a limbless mesh dummy, with scattered swatches on the raised floor below it…
When they came to visit, with their knowing slight smiles, respect was given by all, along with a hint of tolerance, why needed it was unknown to me.
(from “The Strange Tantes”)
The first music Eddie ever wrote on his beloved Favilla guitar was a few years earlier, to Ezra Pound’s Nicotine: Hymn to the Dope. It was a bass-driven drone of merely alternating E minor and G major, the stressed words evoked by the tempo and how he thumbed the bass strings, growing faster and louder, driving stronger until it reached its final crescendo, where Eddie had it suddenly drop off into barely audible notes, with whispered stretched-out words of the last half-stanza…
(from “When Out West”)
The editors would like to thank Susan Tepper for her assistance with material for this tribute.