The Chronogram Poets: Dennis Doherty

(Of Dennis Doherty’s Crush Test Nina Shengold writes in the November Chronogram poetry roundup, “He sings the body electric in language both startling and muscular, from the ecstatic recollection of ‘the god-gathered elate bodysurf lift’ to the blunt ‘Mud and sex are wet smut and there’s a lot/you can make with them, like bodies and bowls.’ ‘This is no confessional,’ Doherty warns, but his poems court intimate knowledge” On Sunday, November 27th Doherty will read with other poets from the roundup at the Kleinert/James Art Center in Woodstock at 4 pm. Here he describes the inspiration behind one of the first poems in the book.)

Imposition of the Difficult

You clear a crest and stumble
upon a slope of recognition:
this mountain, till now unremembered,
a vague delight, notes from a bird
obscured. These firs and outcrops
remain vessels, trembling chambers,
faintly vibrant with joyful past
and the after hum of lost life
in a place that waits and happens.
That wind your hymn? What comes to pass?

What comes again? The chase and loves
of others blots your eyes and ears.
The movement of these critters
is unscripted; each plot in view
uncharted. Some goodness filled you
in these hills, and not this scold of crows.
Nothing can be what was. The climb
takes odd and numbing turns to where.
Echoes can never touch their source.

A stag sidles to your scent and speaks
unafraid, an elder, a foreign father.
Being only half deer, you only half
understand: something about death,
something about fear. Half brother
to the soil who loves the soul but
covets the pelt, what do you say?

Comfort, fathers of nostalgic rue?
I’m charged to deliver the new, but
change has shifted the shape of me;
pain has twisted the make of me
from all I thought I knew. Nomadic
mappers of the land, I’m lost.
Am I the message, messenger,
or the one who heeds what calls?

This poem combines two recurring dreams throughout my life. I often dream that I’m in the mountains somewhere and suddenly realize that it’s the site of my greatest joy, somehow forgotten. Then I see the it’s not the exact spot – somewhere over there – and I begin looking for it as the landscape recedes and as the memory of the exact time, the exact joy, also slips through my hands.

The other dream involves walking down a country lane or through the woods and encountering a large buck. The deer doesn’t scare but draws me closer with his eyes. Then he speaks to me in the voice of a man. I know that he must speak these words and that they impart wisdom, but as in the first dream, the sounds become effaced, just beyond reach.

Suppose the dreams come from the same impulse as the concept of heaven. We grow into a sense of loss and a powerful yearning. We feel there is a knowledge beyond experience, beyond language. Some seek it in church, some in romantic love. Some write poems that try to be more than their words.

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