Saturday, April 4, 2020

Jed Myers—National Poetry Month 2020

Seattle Poet Jed Myers

Jed Myers was born in Philadelphia in 1952 to parents of Eastern European Jewish heritage. He studied Creative Writing with an emphasis in poetry at Tufts University, graduating in 1974, and went on, after medical training, to pursue a career in psychiatry.  He settled in Seattle, where he and his wife raised three children. He maintains a solo therapy practice and teaches at the University of Washington. Meyers kept writing poems, but did not seek publication until the events of September 11th, 2001. Since that time, his work has been widely published. For several years now he has been active in maintaining a consortium of music-and-poetry open-mic cabarets called Easy Speak Seattle.  

Jed Myers, on drums, often performs with Band of Poets including John Burgess, Anna Jenkins, Ted McMahon, and Rosanne Olson sometimes joined by other musicians and poets.  
I first encountered Myers’s work last summer in in an on-line collection of work in response to the humanitarian immigration disaster on the Mexican-American border and the Trump maladministration of jettisoning traditional legal avenues of claiming asylum , forcibly turning back border crossers,  separating families, and indefinitely detaining most who got across in virtual concentration camps.  He commented about his contribution:

For all its shocking immediacy, an image of tragedy on our southern border seems to embody our burned-out distance. The drowned father and little daughter are casualties of our country’s deep currents of fear. The truth that we’re all Americans north and south is lost in the hubbub of nationhood. We take the river as border, denying our deeper unity. I hope my poem holds and conveys the embarrassment of our self-distancing.
The image of the bodies of asylum seekers Alberto Ramirez and his toddler daughter Valeria in the Rio Grande briefly caught the attention of Americans and shocked the shockable.

American Border Study—Two Bodies in a River

Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, Valeria, Rio Grande, Matamoros, Mexico

We’ll recall her small arm on his neck.
We’ll forget them there in the shallows.

We wonder at the black cloth they share.
We don’t get it was how he held her.

We see clearly her short red pants.
We miss the pink disposable diaper.

We note the bamboo stalks on the shore.
We grow our bamboo along the link fence.

We see sun in the river’s slow ripples.
We have no fierce current here in the frame.

We’re touched their dark heads wind up together.
We are spared their still-eyed stare.

We’re shocked the camera shot them in the back.
We’re not especially surprised.

We’re living the lives they might have.
We haven’t been breathing water.

We understand it’s father and daughter.
We don’t have our noses in the mud.

Jed Myers
from Poets Respond
June 30, 2019

This deeply personal poem won the 2013 Literal Latte Poetry Award.

Going to Bed

These nights I slip down into sleep 
in minutes, freed from a lifelong
ritual, the slow obsessive surrender
of my vigilance. Some nights it took hours

to check all measures on the interior
monitor — savings, the kids’
immunizations, endangered birds,
the boy down the block gone to war….

Now, it isn’t that peregrines nest
again on the Hudson’s bridges (they do), 
nor that the detainees are released 
from Guantanamo (they are not).

I know the cisterns of Hanford are fractured
and bleeding our cancers into the river.
I know the immigrants wait in the culverts
to cross into Texas. I drift anyway.

I’m sure it’s not that when I lie down  
in my bed, no one else is there 
in the flesh who will press the points
of the thorns of the day. And I’d swear

it isn’t that I am eased to know 
my children, nomads now on their own
in this carbon-hazed wilderness, succeed
in trading the gold of true affection.

It’s just that I slide into silence,
into the soil of sleep, down dream’s 
rivulets, with no resistance, knowing 
this: a few I’ve loved have descended

for good, from air into earth, left
the world still pressing its weather east,
spring's blackberry stalks infiltrating
the beach paths, mosquitoes drinking

the sweet sera of lovers asleep
in each other's arms at dawn…. We go on
crossing over our mingled lost,
our footfalls on the sun-stained grass

a comfort to them if they listen in 
their sleep (they can’t, but they haven't gone
far). We have our dark-hour meetings
(in topsoil? synapses?) — they thank us

for breathing, as we still play the leaves
while they take to the roots (a comfort 
to us as we draw the sheets like first
layers of dust up to our cheeks).

Last night my father and I took our seats
at a cafe table in part of the city
I’d never seen. His eyes gleamed
as he piped up Let’s eat. So it was

and it wasn’t real. He looked serene — 
not rushed as he’d always been
(in his vigilance). Dawn pressed
its way through the slats, and I surfaced.

He lingered. So I’ll sink
again tonight, in trust,
into the under-life, a surrender
to depths off the monitor, to the silt

where my mother’s father still picnics
and holds a baby girl up to the sun
by a Western Pennsylvania river —
where, a closed-eye blink later,

a thin boy in Lithuania runs
from a house on fire, toward America,
into the immeasurable brightness of love.
It’s this: up from the loam of devotion,

out of the night, some will return,
by the human xylem of heartwood
and vine, to gather actual sun, 
here in the blood's branches creaking

in time; some will remain in the night,
out of reach of the light's last fingers,
beneath our prisons, bridges, beds,
in the intricate unconscious mulch

where the world dreams its births, riots,
blooms, monsoons — a matter of inches
deep, under the lids of our eyes,
in this one tissue that sleeps and dies.

Jed Myers

And finally—

Poem for My Country

Not far from my city, I walked under tall trees
by a river whose name soon escaped me.

Silty-green eddies, white froth dressing
the rocks, flat current over what I thought

must be the depths, a riffle dazzled
the shallows. I lost perspective

to the strobe of the wind-shaken maples’
foliage fringing the shore. Were they swallows

who sped and veered, who caught the living
dust of the hovering bug constellations?

A few splashes some yards upriver,
little eruptions of silver, what might be

a fish, I bent for a better look under
a branch, and saw on the edge up ahead

a kid spin a flat rock to skip, and it did.
What country is this? A moment in wonder,

no answer. The water coursed past
in and out of the bright and the dark, I heard

the elements’ vigorous frictions, dignified
groans of the cedars and firs, and imagined

the current grinding away at the stones.
What country is this? Perhaps it is known

to the singing boughs spread over the banks,
to the stones, or the invisible fish.

—Jed Myers

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