Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Here comes my friend, Bill Mawhinney, with a new book of poems. Bill is not famous. Oh, yes, these days you can Google him and find a couple of his poems online. You can even watch him read. But famous? No. Which does not mean the man is not capable of stringing together some beautiful lines that will reach directly from his heart to yours.

Here he is, addressing one Leonard Gregg, arsonist, whose action destroyed the beloved Show Low, Arizona landscape where he lived:

Leonard, Tuesday morning you tossed a match
behind Cibecue's rodeo ring to stash
some firefighting cash in your pocket.
That's what they say.

Does he want "to hang you like a pinata and thump you with a ball bat"? Yes, he does. But "I'm too sad to punish you, Leonard./Exhausted I sink to my knees,/sobbing on this blackened ground." But Bill's compassion wants his nemesis only to

Serve until sap rises in your heart,
until growth rings root you into these mountains
and sink you into the canyons all around,
until you rise into beauty in this place.

See what I mean? Here's a man who is unafraid to look into his heart and tell the truth about what he finds there, and has the language to do it with precision and tenderness. He speaks to us of the process of aging and the prospect of death. He speaks of love lost, and love found. Who could better synthesize the meaning of "Persist," a book that took me decades to write than Bill does, in these simple words?

Poetry has been a tough sell.
I'm tired, the pencil dulls in my hand.
I've sluffed off lofty aspirations
To cram shelves with my publications.
I'm too old to chase fame
Yet too deeply dug into words to quit.

Or this, "Doors"...

He who opens a door
And he who closes it
Are not the same man.

The weight of shadows slides
Down a long corridor,
Shouldering against

Doors I've opened
Doors I thought I'd closed,
And those somehow left ajar.

How do I return home
When all the doors lean away?

Beautifully written, so rich with meaning, and economical with words. What Bill does so well is document the journey of his heart. Hence his title, "Cairns Along the Road." His poems, precisely, are cairns, stones stacked with love one atop the other, markers on those points of passage where meaning seems to flood in on us in moments of epiphany. They remind us to stop along our own roads, look around, observe what's happening around us and how it responds to what's happening within.

Here's the sad thing: I can't even tell you how to buy this book. The Heron Hill Press, it seems, has no website. Perhaps, reading these words, Bill will feel moved to write and let me know how you can lay your hands on one, in which case, I'll pass the information on.

No comments: