Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: American Death Wish?

by lizard

If it all works out, I may get a sequence of poems published by a small press moving out of the just simmering phase. For this project I’ve picked a grouping of 11 poems tentatively called AMERICAN DEATH WISH.

The title feels inescapable.

There is another title of poems I’m excited about. Night is Simply a Shadow is the posthumous collection of poems by Greta Wrolstad, a collection I’ve hoped would eventually come out.

From the link, Joanna Klink says this of her student:

Greta Wrolstad (1981-2005) was a poet and vital presence in the M.F.A. program at The University of Montana, where she held a teaching assistantship in English and served as poetry co-editor of CutBank. Greta was my student. She was not only tremendously talented but at-home in herself, in ways that are utterly elusive to me. I will be lucky if, in my lifetime, I can approach some of the peace that seemed to radiate from Greta at 24.

Like Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore, two poets she read exhaustively, Greta was exceptionally good at describing the natural world—in part, I suspect, because she had the patience to look at seawater and trees for a long time, without asking what she saw to be anything other than itself. Greta was a traveler. Her poems open out like vast geographies, always with a strain of quiet and sense of witness.


Maybe death as a theme feels so inescapable because death has become so casual.

The recent inquiries into the cause of death of the poet Pablo Neruda, inquiries that Neruda may have been actually poisoned by the CIA, isn’t even a blip on our collective radar. From the link:

A Chilean judge has issued an order for police to initiate a manhunt of the man prosecutors say poisoned Pablo Neruda, the poet described by literary luminary Gabriel Garcia Marquez as the “greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.”

Neruda’s death, some forty years ago at the age of 69, has always been attributed to prostate cancer, for which he was being treated at the time of his death. But Manuel Araya, the poet’s one-time chauffeur who maintains that Neruda was killed by the Pinochet regime, is the plaintiff in a case that seeks to establish the true cause of his death.

At the end of last week, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Montana’s poet laureate, Sheryl Noethe. Her incredible generosity and deep commitment to poetic advocacy makes her a fantastic steward of the honorary position.

This week’s poetry selection is from Sheryl’s debut collection, titled The Descent Of Heaven Over the Lake (New Rivers Press, 1984).



A man steps from a bar out onto the street
shaking his head and waving a gun.
His friend weaves uncertainly behind him,
holding out a hand.
The sun poisons his liquor through his head.

The body is struck like a bell and makes
no sound. Stopped ringing long ago, it seems.
“Look,” you say, “I’m beginning to leave you.”
The trees burst into flame. You try
to stay asleep.

An old woman on a boat bites into a lemon.
Your body rings and you taste her joy as
her teeth break the skin. The ferry breaks
neatly into the waves of the sea. A soldier
walks by and offers you a cigarette.
His grin breaks into your gaze.
You look past him, toward the sea,
where you’d hoped the dolphins might be.

—Sheryl Noethe

  1. Dear friend
    Thank you for your remarkable blog. Just recently I was looking back at my earliest book and realized it still worked for me–
    now I see you have blogged one of those early poems- (1983)
    and I see we are achieving synchronicity. Thank you!!
    I love coming to see what you’ve done next. Great jog!
    My very best regards and appreciation, your friend Sheryl

  1. 1 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] American Death Wish? […]

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