I've known Scott Owens for years. We first met while I was at UNC-Greensboro doing a week-long residency for the MFA Writing Program. Since then he has devoted his time and energy not only to his own poetry but also to that of others in our region. As editor, blogger, and author of a regular column on poets and poetry, he serves as an example of what a poet fully engaged in his community can offer us. Go to Musings to read his blog posts; go to his books to read his poetry.
Author of 7 collections of poetry and over 800 poems published in journals and anthologies, Scott is editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review, Vice President of the Poetry Council of North Carolina, and recipient of awards from the Pushcart Prize Anthology, the Academy of American Poets, the NC Writers' Network, the NC Poetry Society, and the Poetry Society of SC. He holds an MFA from UNC Greensboro and currently teaches at Catawba Valley Community College. He grew up on farms and in mill villages around Greenwood, SC. His new book, Something Knows the Moment, will be published in August by Main Street Rag. I've selected several of my favorites from the manuscript to share with you.
The Dream of St. Francis
It started with the hungry look of stars,
wind a trembling lip, earth
a field of mouths closing on air.
For all I gave I thought that God
would show me the way, give me the means
to make my life a sacrifice.
He gave me nothing but pierced hands,
a dream of the world in need.
All I had left was myself.
I gave my hands to doves, shadow wings
incapable of flight.
I gave my arms to the deep needing
of thorns, feet to blistering sand,
ankles to holes in the ground,
knees to trees crouched in water.
A pair of crows carried my eyes away.
Wrens made nests of my hair.
I gave my tongue to the bleating of sheep,
my ears to bats. A possum wore my scalp
like a helmet. Rats settled in the back
of my skull. I left the skin of my arms
for snakes to inhabit, the rest for deer,
rabbits, raccoons, worms.
The smallest insects drank from the cup of my heart.
Reaching the pond I lay down beside it,
satisfied, unafraid, waiting
for what remained to turn to dust
and ash, for rain to empty this prison
of skin, feed the earth’s menu of roots,
castings, runoff to another day.
Why Angels Are Always Fat
He took all my pretty ones with him
the ones with tight bellies, long
streaming hair, faces thin as blades,
the ones who had fallen in love
with themselves, and had reason to do so.
He left me only these soft and silent
mounds of flesh, these uninspired,
these bodies needing wings twice
the size you’ve imagined.
He took all my hungry ones with him,
the ones who ate meat, drank fire,
howled at the moon. He left me
not with shepherds but sheep
fattening on clouds, their wrinkled bodies
growing chins instead of desire.
When I clapped my hands the pretty ones
came slow, always touching themselves
below the waist, lingering to see how
first one, then another thing felt against them.
He never clapped at all, just made his body
like silver, a mirror they’d follow anywhere.
Of course I had to let him go.
That was no way to run a heaven,
everyone looking at him,
myself no longer the center of thought.
But now when I clap, no one comes
at all, not that I wish they would.
Those he left stuff themselves
on dumplings and cream, their bodies
turning to clouds heavy with rain.
Sometimes when he leaves his lights on
I watch them from my high chair.
I like to see the shapes they make
with each other, see their bodies burn
with forbidden fire, see what they remember,
see my face reflected there.
Now Hiring Holy Angels
Title from a sign on Highway 16 Near Denver, NC
Job Title: Messenger.
Full-time position. No education required.
Duties may include intervention,
retribution, passing through silent rooms,
guarding trees and true believers,
unlocking gates, moving the dead.
Some heavy lifting.
Must have own halo and be willing to relocate,
possess excellent customer service skills,
bedside manner and flair for the dramatic.
Experience with flaming swords a plus.
White robe provided. Prefer blondes
or redheads with long, curly hair.
Fat babies need not apply.
Send name, photo, previous addresses,
age, religion, exact weight,
relevant experience, personal references
and driver’s license number for criminal background
check. All applicants will be tested
for drugs, narcissism, and insatiable lust.
Salary: None. Benefits to die for.
It starts with your hand floating on water,
your feet leaving no wet spots on the floor.
She was surprised to find how easily she stayed
on top, feeling weightless even on the thin skin
of lake. When she stood up she had to be careful
not to be seen. It’s not walking on water exactly
but floating just above the surface of everything.
Waking in the middle of the night you walk
to the mirror and find your entire face
dilated. The past has become a single dream,
more than enough to keep you from sleep.
Already her body yearns for earth,
her feet linger over roots, her hands
try to fly away like leaves, her mouth
leans to kiss every flower she sees.
One day you think you see yourself
disappearing in sunlight, your body scattered
like dust. You move quickly towards shadows.
The strange hair in your back begins to feel
like a feather, your feet curl like talons.
Reaching out to the people she loves
she feels nothing but the light around them.
She no longer knows the imperfections of face,
hand, breast. When she tries to speak
she finds her mouth can only make music.
If she could shed this skin, her body
would burst into flight, her wings cut the sky
like sharp limbs tossed erratic in wind.