On September 17, Bertha Rogers read at the Bryant Park Reading Room Series, which happens outside near 6th Avenue and 42 Street where the whole world meets, and fire engines clang and ambulances scream, and even though it was a windy night, and the poet, from time to time, stepped away from the microphone, the poems remained strong because the poet’s voice is so sure of itself that what is heard is easily seen in the imagination. In the Vimeo below you will hear Bertha Rogers read poetry loud and clear from her most recent work, Wild, Again. Enjoy.
I think one reason why Bertha Rogers writes poems that live and breathe is because she grew up in rural Iowa close to the plants and animals, but the seasons, the bud to leaf that finally falls becomes everybody’s history; and if the poet can be a dog or a bear or a tree so can the reader. Predator and prey, leader and the dragging-led, night and day, now and old as when our human eyes first opened, still dumb animals, but seeing, beginning to speak, that is where Wild, Again is.
Once I was part of a holy beast, I was.
I was a dog, a bear, a horse.
I was the leader and the dragging-led.
My fur was both sleek and shaggy, black and white.
I was as tall as a stallion, long-maned,
yet bony, as deep withered as a dog.
I barked and I whinnied, I growled.
I cantered and I loped, I lumbered.
This was before I was born, before I slid
from the cave, where I was hailed
then demeaned for my unnatural cries.
I rose up—red dog spinning rain, swirling
band of pink. At last they knew me in my corner.
The words they gave left. I barked again.
When the hawk leaves his tree for movement
among the green, when he aims earthward,
the air opens for him as if sliced by a deft
knife, space disappearing into time’s
aperture. The nosing gray vole, knowing she will
cease, sharply screams, screams twice.
The hawk flexes lightning-bright talons;
his wings broadcast intent; close and break
like thunder, dimming June’s new blades.
When the hawk’s blazing claws wreathe
the vole’s rolling body, his gleaming beak
arcs toward the fleet heart, and blood’s first,
deepest drop drops through blue—
the whole sky opens, blameless and distinct.
Now, if you happen to be at a bookstore and are not flush enough to buy Wild, Again, stand there for a minute like a tree that Bertha has planted and read a poem from it: “Holy Beast, To The Heart, Blue Beak Speaking, Hawk’s Reason, Planting Wildness, Stone And Stand, Vultures, or From My Room, Christmas Morning,” marvelous with oxymoron, but no, read “Walnuts,” one of my favorite poems. Read “Walnuts” first. Its last lines make me wish that I had written it: What I love best about the black walnut is its bottomless, elusive taste—a brief bite of earth. I love sleep and sex, too, for advancing me toward my last passing.
Open Wild, Again, read; let Bertha Rogers plant you like a tree. It is published by Salmon Poetry. You can check them out here:
…Bertha Rogers & me @ a Lynn McGee shindig, March 2013