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 2010. Click 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 TriQuarterly, RHINO, Porcupine, Gulf Coast, Orion, Poetry 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.