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.