John Walser


John Walser, an associate professor of English at Marian University in Wisconsin and a founding member of the Foot of the Lake Poetry Collective, holds a doctorate in English and Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Barrow Street, Nimrod, The Pinch, december magazine, Naugatuck River Review, Fourth River, the Hiram Poetry Review, Packingtown Review, and Bird’s Thumb. He was a featured poet in September 2014 at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. A Pushcart nominee as well as a semi-finalist for the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, John is currently submitting three manuscripts for publication.


Nothing Howls

Nothing howls
in the before daybreak meadow.

Nothing thrashes.

The moon, a temple orange
low large on the horizon
rough skinned
waits sour for morning.

Powerlines filament buzz
like walls honeycombed over decades
plaster stained by sweetness.

New frogs hesitate
when I shoulder scuff gravel
close to the long grass dew:
spring peepers
stop their throated bell trills.

I dreamed last night after an April storm
rain sweeps pushing from all directions

the scarlet tanager that broods five eggs
outside my office window.

I dreamed weather reports about anvil clouds
thunders’ hyperbole, red and green radar buds
tornadoes that knock down towns with names
like wildflowers
like cupboard essentials
like pioneer stock.

I dreamed the freckles of a woman’s chest.

And when I woke lizard smooth
and no three in the morning could cure that

I walked:

tables of fields
moon silvered furrows
shades of grove tree blindness.

But now
the marsh ditch water is shallow with blue algae.

The green leaves, the air, the unmarked pathway
outlined with cardinal feathers.

Just before sunrise birds
sound like chlorophyll smudges on my shoes
like dragonfly wings (wax paper, olive oil, water, sunlight)
like shriveling blackberries.

And nothing breaks from the brush.

Nothing takes flight over my head.
No rooks, no pheasants scatter
at this slight intrusion,
no chimes of wings, no burst of confusion.

Like mosaics, many of my poems take form through the accretion of odd-shaped fragments. In my process of journaling and culling and revising, of finding and sanding and placing images, the bits of broken glass and ceramic, I sometimes find that two or more individual in-progress poems actually work well together. That is what happened here. The first five stanzas and the final four stanzas were part of a piece I was writing to try to capture the absolute stillness of a spring morning walk I had taken, and the middle seven stanzas were in one about a bout of late-night insomnia I had when I woke from a strange dream and couldn’t fall back asleep. After working on both poems individually for about six months, I realized that they should be mortared and tuckpointed together.


John Walser


John Walser, a founding member of the Foot of the Lake Poetry Collective, is currently working on a full-length manuscript, Edgewood Orchard Galleries, as well as two chapbooks of poetry, 19 Skies and Liable to Flooding.  John holds a doctorate in English and Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is an associate professor of English at Marian University, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  His poetry has appeared and is forthcoming in a number of journals, including The Colorado North Review, Barrow Street, Verse Wisconsin and The Evansville Review.

Names for the Skies

Like my mother can say Sweet Cicely, Doll’s Eyes
Sleepy Catchfly, Jack in the Pulpit
speaking in the pagan tongues of flowers.

What should I call the punch through blue
the honey pebbles of starting rain
the trajectory of crow caws
as they rush up dusk’s grey ramps?

What can capture the agate morning horizon steps
the geode flaws in its soft shoulder
the celluloid flush of pigeon wings taking off
the coulter till of root and rot?

In an acorn squash light, a lethargy of moths
what single word, what single phrase
what this or that
what Fireweed, what Quaker Ladies
what Wild Sweet William
marks the purl of lint clouds disintegrating overhead?

In the fall of 2009, I spent a semester teaching at Harlaxton College, just outside of Grantham, England. The college is located in this spectacular 19th century manor house in the middle of a Lincolnshire countryside. Each day, while the weather was still good enough, I spent an hour or two writing in my journal in the Conservatory, surrounded by plants and flowers whose names I didn't know. My original impulse was to write a whole poem about the first stanza, about how my mother knows the common and scientific names for almost all things botanical and about how I don't. However, on August 31 of that year, one of my first days there, as I was working on that poem and as I looked out at the Harlaxton sky, which moved and changed in ways not often seen in Wisconsin, I wrote in my journal, "I want to have names for the skies." That idea struck me and stuck with me: why isn't there, say, the equivalent of Queen Anne's Lace for the sky? I played with it for a while, I watched more English skies and tried to name them, I fretted over the idea, and finally I left the long and jumbled fragments of a long and jumbled poem sitting quietly in my in-progress pile for about a year. At that point, in a strange moment of recollection in tranquility, when I looked back into my journals, when I looked back at those various skies, when I pieced a small handful of them together, all the clutter in the idea disappeared and this much more direct poem took form fairly quickly.