Several years ago, Richard Parisio hosted a group of us for afternoon writing retreats at Slabsides, John Burroughs’s rustic getaway cottage beside a swamp that once hosted his celery crop, a fact that inspired at least one of us to write a poem about Bloody Mary’s. Rich, himself, wrote about cedar posts, fern shadows, and other hints of Burroughs’s lingering presence. Now he has gone and won the 2014 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition for his manuscript, The Owl Invites Your Silence, given by the Hudson Valley Writers Center housed in old train station in Philipse Manor overlooking the sparkling Hudson River, at least on a sunny afternoon. In late March, Jo Pitkin, a fellow Slabesider, and I attended Rich’s book launch, where his reading was, indeed, punctuated by speeding trains, a nice companion to the quietude in his poems. Among the pleasures was meeting his daughter, a veterinarian. Here’s a poem he read for her:
My Daughter’s Surgeries
At five you’d plumb the cat-killed
chipmunk with a pair of sharp sticks,
open its limp body, pluck out tiny organs
till you found the bright read berry of the heart.
To see how it looks inside, you’d say.
And now, your still-small fingers
pull back shuddering skin and muscle panels,
reach deep into the rooms of horses’ sides
like throwing open shutters after a storm.
Your own heart’s strong enough
to beat for two, a thousand pounds of beast
suspended in your sling and all your hundred,
fire and fiber and nerve, as counterweight.
Here’s another one that tickled my fancy. Last summer, inspired by the detailed observations in an Elizabeth Bishop poem, I wrote about my mouse trap. So I marveled at how much Rich noticed in another small mammal.
Who knew you would turn up
in a tin mouse trap. Your tap-
tap dancing on its metal floor
gave you away. Not the peanut
butter never nibbled, just the tunnel’s
open door enticed you.
Perplexed, the two of us,
jailor and sudden prisoner,
you in your grey velvet suit, stub
tail, pointed snout, miniscule
claws, your eyes like tiny
obsidian beads stuck on–
You don’t need vision in your lightless
leaf-lined passageways. You go
by feel, seize centipedes,
snatch fat grubs, pierce
soft worms with red-tipped
needle teeth. Ravenous.
At my doorway, I release you,
confident you won’t return. But go
for me. Go where the forest
hides its secret lives and deaths
in soft nests in the leaf mold.
Sun-blind like the stars,
we are flooded with daylight.
After the great flood, animals,
first one kind, then another,
were sent for a particle
of earth to make the world again.
Today it’s you we chose–
go down, go down, for all of us,
headfirst into the dark.