New book “Light Year” released August 2

“Light Year” was launched Friday, August 2, 2019 by Liberty Street Books, Potsdam, NY.

Light Year
poems by Dale Hobson, illustrations by Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda

64 pgs., perfect bound paperback with 12 color illustrations by Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda
ISBN 978-0-578-53780-1
Price: $18.00

Order “Light Year” and “A Drop of Ink” online:
Liberty Street Books

Order Kindle e-book of “Light Year” from Amazon.

“Light Year” is just starting bookstore distribution. It is currently available in these North Country locations:

More locations coming soon.

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Moon walks and man shoes

Venetian loafers. Photo: soletrain, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Everyone old enough to remember where they were when the first humans landed on the moon does remember. I was 15 that summer and on a grand tour of the national parks out West with my family.

Our campsite was in walking distance of the Custer Park State Game Lodge and I suspected they would have a TV. They graciously let me in, even though I was the only person present not in formal evening attire for the big occasion, not even close.

Somehow, this recollection led me this morning off into an autobiography of my feet – or my footwear, anyway.

Man Shoes

50 years ago, I wore water buffalo sandals, cut-off jeans,
a short-sleeved denim shirt, and a string of seed-pod
love beads as I walked down the road to Calvin Coolidge’s
summer White House to watch Apollo 11 land on the moon.

We were camping in a tent trailer hauled behind my uncle’s
’67 GTO in the badlands of South Dakota where Custer
met his fate, not far from Mount Rushmore: me, grandma,
my sister and mom and Dad. Brother Gerry was in OCS.

The next footwear fad to tickle my fashion fancy was
Dingo boots: square toed, with ankle straps, brass rings.
My denim shirt was graced at the collar with a red bandana.
Western was cool, at least according to the Grateful Dead.

But then, after Kent State, I went working class hero:
denim still – jacket, jeans and work shirt – but footed out
in steel-toed work boots. There were presses to run,
and a revolution in need of a minister of propaganda.

Sadly, the press burned down in 1980, so I went back
to running shoes, seeking escape from the Moral Majority.
There was no escape, apparently, but I ran on anyway,
through the millennium, on into the Age of Aquarius.

But then running shoes went bad, starting with Air Jordans.
Sneaks became pricey, Halloween-hued, with blinking lights.
I persisted anyway, finding brown with inoffensive stripes,
holding on until the last acquisition was rotting off my feet.

We were in Boston, visiting our daughter, when I saw
the multi-story shoe warehouse near Downtown Crossing.
Surely somewhere within I could find respectable kicks.
But no. Every pair looked left behind by alien visitation.

I was ready to write the raid off until my daughter looked
me in the eye and said “Dad – you’re in your fifties now.
Why don’t you get yourself some man shoes?” – ouch! -
and took me down the aisles that smelled of leather.

Just past the checkout, I binned my decrepit runners
and slipped into the bliss of buttery-soft Venetian loafers.
Taking my now happy feet out onto the streets of the city,
I thought to myself, “I could do the moon walk in these.”

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Late spring complaint

Photo: Wesley Shaver, Pexels

I’ve held up through many a North Country winter and this one was no worse than many, and better than some. But by May, I expect my just recompense: blossoms, birdsong, sunshine. To misquote the legal maxim, “spring delayed is spring denied.” I hate to complain (well, actually I love to complain, at least about the weather; it’s a cherished North Country prerogative), but enough is enough. Let there be sun.

Late spring complaint

Spring has stalled again in that spot that feels
more November than May. Wind whips cold rain;
gray clouds scud low over drenched hilltops,
and the heart – long-distance runner that it is -
slogs rubber-legged with a stitch in its side
up the last long slope before the blessed finish.

All the rivers rise and will keep on rising for weeks;
who can say where they will stop? Water taking land,
fog choking air, rain down the neck, mud in shoes.
The lilacs bide in bud; the apple hoards its blooms.
Where is the trillium? Where is the heron? The sun?
The windshield wipers beat their endless idiot reply.

 

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A change in the weather

At first glance, the North Country does not look its best in November. For those who do not fly with the geese, it means looking a little harder to find the sustaining beauty that rewards any kind of weather. After so grandiose an autumn display, it’s easy to become discouraged; after long bright evenings, sunset comes too soon. I get it – bigly. There is the weather in the head, and the weather of the world. But wait, look a little closer.

A change in the weather

Gray sky today, and the trees a darker gray
where rain has stripped the prayer flag
leaves. It’s November now; the grand view
is gone, except these snow geese shipping
off south, fleeing flurries from the north.

Look no more up to the hills, up to the crowns,
across the still waters. October is for heights;
November is for near at hand. October is all
distances; November is in detail – orange fungus
on a stump, a tawny tamarack amid dark cedars.

The woods will drip all day, the trail slick
with mud and leaf duff. Only the understory
of saplings holds autumn’s shreds – little
candles of lemon, orange and russet glow
a brave resistance to the sudden evening.

With night and snow the eye turns closer still -
going no further than the porch light’s beam,
or the pages of a book, bright peppers on the
cutting board. And finally, inward altogether,
as dreams swim like fish beneath thin ice.

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Why women invented beer

Ninkasi, Sumerian goddess of beer.

Yesterday an article in the Food and Drink section of Huffington Post caught my eye: “According To History, We Can Thank Women For Beer.” It details the role of women in the invention and development of brewing going back at least 9,000 years. But it never answers the question that immediately arose in my mind – “Why did women invent beer?” Here’s my theory.

Why Women Invented Beer

In those days the hunters had to range so far to find
a mammoth the whole clan would have to come,
leaving behind the sheltered valley rich with berries
and nuts, the river teeming with fish and mussels -
out to where there was nothing but wind and moss,
snow blown sideways across the endless steppes.

Then a year came when there were no mammoths,
not a track, no dung, nothing. The men pogoed
for hours around the fire, chanting their hunt songs;
the shaman babbled, wailed, shook the magic rattle -
all to no avail. And so, half-starved, footsore, the band
dragged themselves back to their bend in the river.

That lean year the clan ate anything they could find:
roots, bugs, even the grasses the wild horses grazed.
Being barely edible as was, a woman boiled it, added
a little wild honey so the children would eat it too,
and set it aside for later. But she forgot about it
until the batch went bad, bubbling and stinking.

So when himself came back grumpy, hungry, with
his game pouch empty, she said “Well, there’s this;
it’s nasty, but it will fill the hole in you.” Having eaten
worse – raw snails, rotted fish – he choked it down.
Later he began to laugh at nothing in particular
and rolled around with the children in the dirt.

This being so unlike him, she made another batch,
gathering all the seed-heads she could find.
He shared the brew with his hunting brothers,
who spent the whole night hooting around the fire,
dancing and showing off. When morning broke
none of them felt much inclined to take up the hunt.

And so settled life began, and agriculture. The men
began to build fences and walls and huts. Women
planted, harvested and brewed, and the place beside
the river became civilization. The Sumerians knew
her as Ninkasi, goddess of beer. In ancient Egypt,
she was revered as Menqet. And the rest is history.

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Another old poet has died

Donald Hall, 14th U.S. Poet Laureate, 2006-2007. Photo: Library of Congress

The poet Donald Hall died this week. Never say he “passed away;” he loathed euphemism. Though we never met except as a reader does, upon the page, I felt a kindred spirit at work in him. Being the age of my father, you might say Hall was the sort I wanted to be when I grew up – should that day ever come.

I liked his dedication to place, firmly planted as he was upon the farm, Eagle Pond, where his great-grandfather settled in 1865. And I loved the clear intent to communicate in ordinary language to ordinary people that his work displays. He believed that plain language sufficed to convey the most complex mixtures of thought and emotion.

“Everything important always begins from something trivial,” Hall said. Though he often achieved it, he did not insist on depth as a key value for individual works of art. To be beautiful was sufficient to justify any poem. And as I age myself, I appreciate being witness to his own journeys through love and loss, and to his ripening acceptance of the necessity of mortality, even his own.

As a writer, he said, “I expect my immortality will last about six seconds after my funeral.” In that, I expect, he was incorrect.

Here’s a poem for Donald Hall.

Another old poet has died

for Donald Hall

Another old poet has died, no surprise,
being made of meat, not stone.

But such is death doubled, taking
what unpenned works along.

The reader must begin again, seeking
some younger and stranger voice

that might elicit from him a grunt
in the silence of the library,

that might make him whisper
in wonder, “How perfect, how true.”

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The harbinger

Archive Photo of the Day: Antoni Zaborek Wildlife Photography‎

Archive Photo of the Day: Antoni Zaborek Wildlife Photography‎

In May of 2015, I wrote these words in the Listening Post:

“Whenever I see a trillium, I want to stop and breathe, to do nothing but be in the presence. And then I want to write a poem; I want to consider perfection, purity, evanescence. A trillium is a thing seen that points to things unseen. I haven’t written that poem yet…”

This morning it was time to write that poem.

The harbinger

Winter wrecked the woods again.
Broken beeches lean upon the pines.
Snapped limbs loom over underbrush
and little bones litter leaves
below the bole where waits the owl.

Having longed so long for snow to go
the heart now hurts to count the cost
of what’s revealed and what was lost.

And yet, there’s ease in sultry air
when stripes of sun strike everywhere
to free the reek of rain-soft duff.

There, down the bank, a harbinger–
a gleam beside this cold rill roiled
with runoff, thick with snags–
a thing seen points to things unseen:
the pure, fleeting flag of trillium.

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Twenty-five below

Photo: Max Pixel, public domain

Photo: Max Pixel, public domain

Calling it cold doesn’t quite cover it. One more night into the double-digits below zero and then finally the temperatures will start to go back up. It’s been a long time to just call it a “snap.” Mostly, folks just hunker down or venture out only as far as the drive to start the car – (if it will start) – then back in to warm up while the engine warms up, too.

But it can also have a mysterious allure, especially at night, in the clear air under the big moon, that can draw one out the door. Here’s a new poem for a bone-cold night.

Twenty-five below

I walk out into dope-slap cold
clad in a space-suit of layers
under sparking stars, bold
beside an arc lamp moon.
All silent, but for creaking snow
and cracking trees which loom,
making unintelligible gestures,
black against midnight blue.

Somewhere I saw it written,
in the hieroglyphs of frost
which crept across the window,
in the snow code mice write
in panic under shadow
of the owl. Some message only
moonlight unveils, only walking
wakes, only cold makes plain.

Breathing daggers, exhaling smoke,
I shamble across the back yard
casting about for the arcane sign,
to find a doe a-shiver in the sumac
who startles back into pine.
Startled, too, I step back toward
the distant porch light’s shine.
I could catch my death out here.

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Leaving for work in November

Photo: Pauline Eccles, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Pauline Eccles, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Whether you love your work or not, it can be hard to get started some days. And never more than during the dimmer  months of the year. I can only conclude that that’s why God made coffee.

Leaving for work in November

Not yet dawn, but already geese racket
on the river, marshaling their convoys
for the next stage south.

The leaves are all down, but for a few
bright tatters that will emerge in sunrise
like an empty street after Mardi Gras.

Homeless deer nose through the leavings
of the apple tree while my coffee brews
and the news honks away on the radio.

After the curtain falls on fall and before
it rises on winter is too long
an intermission, November.

The house lights come up in gray sky
over brown ground slick with rain.
I blink the world back into focus.

The geese all rise at once, loud and full
of purpose, up the aisles of air, guided
by some lodestone in the brain.

I keep to my seat, thinking,
one more cup of coffee, one more,
and then I’ll go.

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Eclipse voyage

Captain Radio Bob aboard the liesure research vessel Little Queenie. Eclipse expedition, August 21, 2017.

Captain Radio Bob aboard the liesure research vessel Little Queenie. Eclipse expedition, August 21, 2017.

On Monday while Brian Mann was soldiering up the heights of Mount Marcy with eclipse glasses and sound kit, others from the station were embarking from Morristown aboard Radio Bob’s leisure research vessel Little Queenie to experience the eclipse from the downstream end of the Thousand Islands. Here is a poetical postcard.

Eclipse voyage

Having basked enough for now
I walk off into pine shadow, leaving
the boys to snorkel around the boat.
At a picnic table the others swap
turns peering into a small hand-held
device made from a box of Raisin Bran
and other common household products
while the moon bites into the sun.

The dimming light has gone strange,
like the golden hour, David says, but not.

At the upstream end of Sparrow Island
the anchor of the Lillie Parsons trails
its chain into dancing water.
Standing there, I imagine the squall,
the chancy currents where she grounded
in 1877, imagine the chain leading 65 feet
below to where her 500 tons of coal
strew like dark stars across the bottom.

I view an image of the eaten sun
through a lattice of my fingers;
through the lattice of the past,
I see the schooner break its bones
upon the rocks. Until upstream
a laker sounds five blasts, dispelling
reverie, eclipsing this pinhole
view through space and time.

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