July Light

Another “Light Year” poem.

July Light

Today the light is no light, just a glow that comes
from everywhere and nowhere—not quite fog,
but shadowless, diffused through the muggy air,
and this vague unease that presages thunderstorm.

But other days the hot light of midday shouts out
over the fields, strong enough to put you on you back,
one hand shading your eyes to stare up into a sky
that runs unbroken piercing blue in all directions.

Days that call for sand next to cool water, the bright
scent that sunlight draws forth from balsam and pine,
dappled light that filters down onto woodland paths,
the light that pops and scatters off a rippled lake.

And after the long late light falls to evening,
the moon’s bone-white path across the water,
bracketed by stars and fireflies, and campfire light,
and lantern light that guides you toward your bed.


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May Light

Another poem in the series “Light Year,” examining the qualities of light in each month of the year.

May light

There are only two seasons in the North Country
winter and not-winter. April was cruel as usual,
arbitrary, fickle, indecisive—unable to pick a side.
But May delivers what April only pretended to.

You drowse away through the dawn chorus,
but when you do rise it’s already full light,
so bright you squint out the kitchen window
waiting for the coffee to filter through.

What began as a yellow-green haze softening
the black outlines of the maple’s branches
has popped a green so lurid you would call it
“not found in nature” without the plain evidence.

And the air is a fresh rain-washed blue, so clear
the distant hills are sharp on the horizon.
A confection of cumulus dots the sky, still cool,
but on the short-sleeves side of cool, for once.

So you step out into the sweet scent of lilacs,
into the bee buzz and the hummingbird whirr
and lever your sluggish bones behind the wheel.
A little apple petal twister follows you down the road.



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November Light

Photo: Joseph Gruber, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Joseph Gruber, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Two years ago I had this idea that each month of the year shone with its own unique quality of light, and that I should write a twelve-poem cycle that would capture those qualities. Until yesterday, I had managed to write one–for August. But now there are just ten left. I figure I’ll be ready for press by 2020.

November is pretty tough–dark, wet, cold, stingy. But there are a few moments that can help you last out the coming winter.

November Light

The last sweet day of November
comes after days of gloom and rain
while you are still in mourning for the fallen leaves,
resigned to coming cold and endless dark.

It comes after a frosty night has filtered the wind
and dry leaves crunch underfoot to add
their tannic tang to the odor of the air.
It comes sultry, in the 60s, and dazzlingly bright.

One last day. The sky holds blue to the horizon
except for a scribble of cumulus clouds,
some drawn long by mid-altitude winds,
some stacked serenely into stiller upper air.

Such a glory of blue and white that the eyes rise
squinting up from the dull brown and gray surround
despite themselves. How could they not?
A sane man would take the day off from work.

But these few moments will have to do.
November is a parsimonious month.
It was only luck that there was even this,
and just your usual luck to have it be a weekday.

Still, days later, you remember that brief warmth
on your face like the blush of love, and you taste
again that last sip of brightness, precious now
as the flash of a cardinal’s wing amid twilight cedars.

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Missing August Light

"Clover Fields," Rockwell Kent

"Clover Fields," Rockwell Kent

Two years ago I had this idea that each month of the year shone with its own unique quality of light, and that I should write a twelve-poem cycle that would capture those qualities. As it is with many summer projects, I made a start but couldn’t follow through because–well–because hammock, because barbecue. You know how it goes.

I ran across the abortive effort last night, one poem imaginatively titled “August Light,” and realized that in this chilly August, this particular light has been completely passed over. As long as you’re all showing off your North Country stoicism by resisting the impulse to fire up the furnace “just to take the chill off,” maybe this will provide you with a little warmth.

August Light

In the cool morning of a hot day
the road is lined with chicory,
purple loosestrife, buttercups
and Queen Anne’s lace.

The corn is green, grass is brown,
the sky blue, except at the horizon
where haze tints the raking light
the same shade as lemonade.

When I was five I would walk
in lemon light all by my lonesome
(without crossing the street)
to the store for a five-cent treat.

And at ten, identical light shone
down through filtering oaks
where I crossed the rusted tracks
to mess about beside the river.

It was light the shade of lemonade
I was trying to evoke at twenty,
sweating out the writing workshop,
beating at the page like a moth.

At forty, this light lit up my dad–
elbow out the window, pipe in teeth,
ball-capped, driving a ’67 Safari,
trailing his motorboat toward heaven.

Memory, sweet and sour, mixed
like lemonade in August light.
Everything everywhere always shining–
that is how the light looks now.

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New poem: I see the snow has fallen

Woodcut (detail), Hiroshige, from "Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido," 1835

Finally, a poem fresh from the oven.

February Light

I see the snow has fallen overnight,
pure and shining as the New Jerusalem
set down outside my kitchen window.

Cupping a white mug of black coffee,
I peer into woods white as angels’ wings.
Each limb, every twig bears a fragile froth of glory.

Now, before the sander rumbles through
and the school bus intrudes its bright yellow racket,
before the wind rises to knock all askew–all is well.

One quiet moment, as in between the breathing in
and the long exhalation, to savor what day could be,
before it slushes down into what day will be.

Dale Hobson, February 28, 2013

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Bells and Cannon

I had begun to write this poem in April 2012 when I cannibalized the topic for a Listening Post essay. I later came back to it, the subject not leaving me alone until I did.

Bells and Cannon

The first cannon were temple bells, a thousand years ago.
Only tons of bronze could contain the fury of charcoal,
saltpeter, sulfur–the alchemical birth-brew of the modern age.

The bronze has recycled back and forth, bell into cannon,
cannon into bell, forged and reforged, cast anew in sand,
as church or state required. Hauled from belfry to armory,

then back to belfry again. Is the metal good or evil? No–
only mutable, like water, taking the shape of whatever
design contains it, until cooling, it freezes into form.

Just as we are mutable–one day fired up to belligerence,
one day called forth to penitence. It’s an open question
which one–bell or cannon–has wrought greater rue.

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New poem: Trail of Tears

Ice: Greg Lago wood engraving

Sliding in at the last minute again with an assignment poem written for tonight’s St. Lawrence Area Poets (SLAP) meeting. The topical assignment for the month: write about cold.


Trail of Tears

The snow, fine and thick as smoke,
taken sideways by a cutting wind,
fills in the tracks weary feet made
on the journey into exile.

Soon it will be as if they never were,
as those who walked the Trail of Tears
have vanished, except in schoolbooks.
So many, taken by the cold.

Hunched and ragged, with nothing
in common but misery and need,
they stand together without speaking
where footsteps make an end.

They too have been ejected from homes,
separated from their livelihoods,
forced away from warmth and light
into the white limbo of winter.

Faces numb and pale in the wind,
all gooseflesh where thin jackets gape,
fumble-fingered and leaden-footed,
they smoke behind the dumpster.

Dale Hobson, 1/10/12

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Night Conference: two revisions

In the original draft of Night Conference (previous post) I used the device of casting the poem in the second person. I was dealing with an inside-the-head moment–a situation where, as a writer, I frequently go off the rails. By using the second person voice, I was able to treat myself more as a character seen from outside. It is also a device that (at least rhetorically) narrows the audience to one. If successfully done, this can create a more intimate space for the reader to inhabit.

But my wife Terry, my frequent and insightful first reader, found it to be an obstacle. Where identification with the poem is incomplete, the second person voice is dissonant. The strategy that allowed me to get the poem roughed out the way I wanted it, no longer served. In my first revision, I cast the poem back into the first person.

Also, noting how the original draft often finds a walking rhythm, then loses it, I went for a shorter line with a more even meter, in order to create better momentum.

Night Conference, edit 1

The single room is quiet
but my head is buzzing,
so I take the elevator
down to the wide lobby,
out past the hotel bar,
too jet-lagged to suffer
chatter from a stranger.

Out past the doorman,
away from the avenue
brawling with traffic,
onto a narrow side street
where no one is walking,
where a windowsill cat
watches a pigeon sleeping
head tucked into its wing.

I leave behind cell phone,
car keys, as I left behind
home, village, work and kin,
the lights and the traffic,
seeking—who can say?

Wishing that the night
would swallow my thinking,
as it swallowed the light
over the western ocean,
the way it swallows up
the television muttering
as I pass below a window.

Block by block by block
I try to walk it off,
til sleep might beckon
like light from an open door.

Just me and my shadow,
that lengthens, shortens,
like the beat of a candle
as I leave one pool of light
and walk on to the next.
Just me and the brick echo
ticking back an afterthought
to every wakeful step.

While I was more happy with the revision than with the draft, I found that the first person didn’t ring quite right either. Damn pronouns! So I used another device that avoids pronouns altogether, the imperative. The “understood” pronoun is back to the second person–you. But the effect here is, I think different. It feels more insomniac, with a detached mental “I” making demands of a sleepless body–the understood “you.”

Night Conference, edit 2

The single room is quiet
but the head is buzzing,
so walk downstairs
into the bright lobby,
and out past the hotel bar,
too jet-lagged to suffer
the chatter of strangers.

Pass the dozing doorman;
get away from the avenue
brawling with traffic,
to the numbered streets
where no one is waking,
save a cat in a window
watching a pigeon sleeping,
head tucked under its wing.

Leave behind the phone,
the keys, as village, work,
and kin are all now behind;
leave the lights and traffic,
to seek out—who can say?

Hope, perhaps, that night
might quench this restlessness,
the way it swallowed the light
above the western ocean,
as it now swallows the babble
of television unwatched
by unseen sleepers within.

Block by block by block,
walk–try to walk it off,
hoping sleep might beckon
like light from an open door.

Just a body and its shadow,
(that lengthens and shortens
like the beating of a candle)
passing under light after light.
Just shoes and the brick echo
ticking back its afterthought
to every wakeful step.

I’m not sure whether I am done with this not or not. Let me know what you think of the various versions in a comment below. If you would like to contribute a poem in progressive iterations, with comments on your own revision process, send it to dale@ncpr.org, and I will post it as a guest entry.

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New poem: Night Conference

SLAP (St. Lawrence Area Poets) monthly meeting in a few minutes. So once again my inspiration is peer pressure. Can’t show up empty-handed. This comes from my rare solo forays away from the North Country, usually to attend a conference in an unfamiliar city. I am, I confess, a streetwalker of sorts–the insomniac sort. Dale Hobson

Night Conference

The hotel room is sterile, quiet–too quiet
for your head to be a-buzz—so you go
down the elevator to the lobby, out past
the bar, too jet-lagged to endure the chatter
of strangers, past the doorman and away
from the avenue brawling with late traffic,
onto the side streets, where no one is walking,
where cats gaze out windows in meditation
at pigeons on ledges, head beneath wing.

You leave behind the phone and car keys
as you left behind home and village, work
and kin, the lights and traffic, seeking—
who can say? Wishing that the night would
swallow all this thinking, the way it swallowed
the light from over the western ocean, the way
it swallows the mutter of a television after
you pass beneath an open window.

Block after block, you try to walk out
of yourself, to reach some place where
sleep could beckon like an open door.
Just you and your shadow, that lengthens
and shortens like the slow beat of a candle
as you pass beneath the endless streetlights.
Just you and the brick echo, clicking back
like an afterthought every wakeful step.

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Assignment: a poem about the “cloud”

I wrote this yesterday as well, in order to be able to show my face at the St. Lawrence Area Poets (SLAP) meeting with a completed assignment. The assignment comes from the newest computer buzz-word, “the cloud” indicating a non-specific location in a network of servers that contains a person’s online stuff–a sort of digital extension of the self. “What’s in your cloud?”--DH


First, the ancestor cloud, stratus,
the lattice of DNA, recording each
previous incarnation back to the amoeba.
Here remain mother and father,
instructing the body to grow. Here
is Aunt Anne’s eye and Grandpa’s jaw.

Second, cumulonimbus, the thunderhead
of memory, each impulse, each sensation
of the body, every turn of thought
a mote of condensation, a nexus of charge
that accumulates tension, building up
to lightning that twitches out in action.

Third, the cirrus cloud of culture,
wispy memes of attitude and style,
the ghost of every book ever read,
the music and images, flat phantasms,
instructional manuals, interviews with
the dead, this collective upload to eternity.

This is the way the water circulates,
rising and falling, and rising again.
This is how we distinguish ourselves,
becoming one thing and not another,
a discrete chunk awash in anonymous stew.
Any shape can arise when watching clouds.

Dale Hobson


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