-- for Ryan Ingebritsen

So that was the summer 
I stood on the park’s idea
of a minimalist bridge--
seven slabs in the river--
and listened to wet syllables 
in an aria of falling and going around-- 
lyrics of riffle, inflected with watercress
punctuated by striders.

The song was repetitive, mostly about longing
for dissolution. There was a distant lover
in some estuary; she smelled of mud and salt.
To get to her, the singer ran headlong
into the earth--scouring and scouring
fat volumes of limestone
until at last he looked up
at the brows of cliffs--
he had dug an amphitheater
on every curve, his bright voice
rang to a shadow audience.
Under green drops, he deployed
an orchestra of birds.

That was the summer I climbed 500 steps
to the top of the bluff,
past cedar and sumac,
leaned over the fragrant balcony

and added my voice to the evening--
my echo returned, sounding like someone 
lost and concerned, far off, perhaps a bit panicked--
the tone the voice finds in distance.


*   *   *   *

James Armstrong met sound artist Ryan Ingebritsen in 2010, when Ingebritsen was an artist-in-residence at the Banning and Whitewater State Parks in Minnesota. Armstrong wrote "Song Path" after going on a hike led by Ingebritsen -- on World Listening Day 2010Click here to find out more. You can listen to "Gooseberry Falls Song Path," recorded by Ingebritsen, below --

James Armstrong is a Midwestern native: he grew up on the sand plains of southern Michigan and went to Northwestern University as an undergraduate. He has an M.F.A. from Western Michigan University and a Ph.D. in American Literature from Boston University. Armstrong's scholarly essay on John James Audubon appeared in Animal Acts: Configuring the Human in Western History (Routledge 1997). Armstrong has taught creative writing and American literature at Northwestern University and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Writing Program.

He has published poems and essays in TriQuarterlyRHINO, Porcupine, Gulf Coast, OrionPoetry East and other journals. Armstrong received the PEN-New England Discovery Prize for poetry in 1996, and he has been awarded both an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in poetry and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in poetry. He was an artist in residence at Isle Royale in 1994 and on Grand Island National Recreation Area in 2004. His first book of poems, Monument in a Summer Hat, was published in the fall of 1999 (New Issues Press). His latest book, Blue Lash, came out in April, 2006, from Milkweed Editions.

His poem, “The Wreck,” was anthologized in Where One Voice Ends, Another Begins, a collection of Minnesota poetry published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press (2007). In October of 2007, he was appointed Poet Laureate of the City of Winona. Armstrong lives in downtown Winona with his wife, Laura, and their two daughters, Dot and Pippa.
 
 
Nights, when I can't sleep, I listen to the sea lions
barking from the rocks off the lighthouse.
I look out the black window into the black night
and think about fish stirring the oceans.
Muscular tuna, their lunge and thrash
churning the water, whipping up a squall,
storm of hunger. Herring cruising,
river of silver in the sea, wide as a lit city.
And all the small breaths: pulse
of frilled jellyfish, thrust of squid,
frenzy of krill, transparent skin glowing
green with the glass shells of diatoms.
Billions swarming up the water column each night,
gliding down at dawn. They're the greased motor
that powers the world. Shipping heat
to the Arctic, hauling cold to the tropics,
currents unspooling around the globe.
My room is so still, the bureau lifeless,
and on it, inert, the paraphernalia of humans:
keys, coins, shells that once rocked in the tides--
opalescent abalone, pearl earrings.
Only the clock's sea green numerals
register their little changes. And shadows
the moon casts—fan of maple branches--
tick across the room. But beyond the cliffs
a blue whale sounds and surfaces, cosmic
ladle scooping the icy depths. An artery so wide,
I could swim through into its thousand-pound heart.


*   *   *   *


Ellen Bass's poetry books include The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press) and Mules of Love (BOA Editions). Among her awards are the Lambda Literary Award, New Letters Poetry Prize, the Larry Levis Prize from Missouri Review, and the Pablo Neruda Prize fromNimrod. She teaches in the MFA poetry program at Pacific University.

 
 
All spring
on the bottom
of our rainboots,
on the backs
of our slickers

the daguerreotypes
drizzling down the red tulips,
the hyacinths
like sistrums
making a march on the Flexpart,

the stores of seaweed
like gnarled hands,

the amber bottles of Iodine
lifting their monked hoods
from shelves of the pharmacy,

the empty rows
of Vibrant Greens
announcing their absence
at Shop N' Kart,

while the grass grows ever longer
undeterred, and the weeds denser,
on the invisible cut of the loom.

*   *   *   * 

Julie Weber is the author of The Cantor Set (Love's Body, 2012) and Resin (Love's Body, 2012). She was the winner of the 2011 Dana Award for Poetry. Julie was a Lambda Literary Fellow for the year 2010, and has been a finalist/semi-finalist in the Tupelo Snowbound, Oscar Wilde, Chroma, Orlando, Joy Harjo, Alligator Juniper and Lexi Rudnitsky competitions. Poems appear or have appeared on the Oregon Poetic Voices site and in Alligator Juniper, OCHO #22 and Harrington Lesbian Fiction Quarterly, among others.