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John Struloeff's first book of poems,The Man I Was Supposed to Be, has just been published by Loom Press. His individual poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Atlantic Monthly, The Southern Review, Zyzzyva, Prairie Schooner, Rosebud Magazine, Rattle, Poet Lore, South Carolina Review, Open Spaces, and War, Literature & the Arts, among others. He grew up in the mountains of northwestern Oregon, where nearly all of his work is set, and was a recent Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. He is the Director of Creative Writing at Pepperdine University.

The Man I Was Supposed To Be is now on sale!

Audio recordings at 'From the Fishouse'
"Bar Pilots" on Verse Daily
The Shadow Waters blog
The Man I Was Supposed To Be homepage

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Four Poems:

Knee-Deep in the Pacific

Twenty years ago
my father described a picture
he’d taken in Korea, the forests burning,
the crackling of gunfire
like branches popping in the wind.
He did not want to forget
the day so many friends had died.
But he had forgotten
the film, left it to burn
in the pocket of his uniform
in a fire meant to kill lice and disease.
Now he sees things he can’t describe,
no picture to show, or explain.

Thirty years after Korea,
he liked to split wood for days alone,
and he would try to answer
questions of a ten year-old son, wanting to give
something I could hold onto when he was gone.

Now I return this Christmas
from years away,
and he is old
and thinks he will take me clamming once,
one thing he has never shown me.
He describes clams as big as my forearm
as we drive onto the sand
and as we wade out into the ocean.
But my father has forgotten the lantern,
and the sun has just set, the roiling water
calm for a moment, the sand
darkening like a blackened highway.
Our jackets flap in the wind,
our knees bend against the drawing surf.
He purses his lips and shakes his head,
saying without words for the hundredth time: 
he has forgotten.
So when we can no longer see our truck
or our feet beneath us,
we still stand in the ocean. 
A city of lights scatters along the surf-break,
men, families, all waiting
for the surf to recede
so they can begin searching this darkness
for life.

[from War, Literature & the Arts (2001)]

 

Loggers

They fly down from the mountains
in their high-rise trucks with half-mufflers
rumbling and rattling, burnt diesel
trailing, scenting the air until long after
they’ve passed.  It is Friday,
and shortly after you sit at the bar,
numb and sore from flipping sticks
at the mill, their trucks will roar
into the gravel lot, and they will park
at the far edge and slam their doors.
They talk and laugh loud
like veterans of an artillery unit,
and when they push through the door,
they’re all you hear.
They smell like overheated engines
and moss, and wherever they stand or sit
they shed wood chips and fine dust,
order mugs of watered sap,
tell stories metered in board-feet.

Mondays, after they’ve returned from hidden
lives in houses far in the trees,
they chew their sandwiches in the Mini-Mart,
looking out at their trucks beneath the cloudy skies.
They are trying to remember the trees
yet to be faced, sawed, and felled.
They are still feeling the jump
and kick and hum of the saws
in their hands.  Too soon, the crew chief
starts his truck, and as it idles—
the knock-knock of diesel—the others
rise and ease their way outside,
nodding at the young woman cashier.
Their trucks clatter to life,
and they all back away and bump
onto the road, snarling and rasping
back up into the trees.

[from The Atlantic Monthly (2004)]

 

Funeral of Earl Jay, a Logger

The mud was puddled with oily water,
four people around the open grave—
one man with black suspenders, log worn boots,
wood chips clinging to his shirt fibers.  He had seen
the mudslide that moved the face of a hill
that swept Earl down into this dark hole.
The old man with a hemlock cane—he had known
Earl as a boy who collected cans from the briars
along the river each summer, a sunrise worker.
The lonely young cashier at West-Mart found
comfort in Earl’s noon-time visits for stew
and coffee. She cried quietly in her brown raincoat.
The presiding pastor, who knew him least,
had talked with him once at a logging show.
He remembered Earl’s laugh, airy and long, contagious.
All knew Earl’s mother and father were dead, his brother
also dead, never found after his crab boat disappeared
twelve years before, his wife long gone with another man.
Before the pastor spoke, a log truck rumbled down
the snaking fire road from the high slopes, growling
at the weight it carried, saying, Let’s get it done.

[from Poet Lore (2006)]

 

Cricket

The world had tossed it at an angle
on my stoop, black as iron,
hardened into its mechanical
stance. I stepped next to it,
my white tennis shoe monstrous,
and it sprung
over the railing and down,
slipping into a dewy tuft of grass
where it chirruped for three nights
and then went silent.

[From Rattle (2002)]

[John Struloeff on “Cricket”: This was my second published poem, one that I am particularly proud of. I was trying to distill an everyday, universally-recognized image (and perhaps moment) into very objective, clear language, something akin to the objectivist aspect of Charles Reznikov’s poetry. Rilke was another poet who did this, trying to get to the untainted inner life of an object. I’m not claiming that I accomplished this kind of purity—but it is part of the affect I was seeking]

 

  John Struloeff photo

John Struloeff
Westlake Village, CA
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