By Way of Introduction
Ellen Wehle’s First Book of Poetry
By John Dufresne on 9.30.09
I once sat with the late George Garrett at a poetry panel at a Georgia writers’ conference. The panelists were heralding the triumph of accessible poetry, poetry so simple, clear, and direct that Everyman could understand it instantly. George leaned over to me and said, “Soon, even our dogs will understand it.” This story comes to mind because I’ve just read my friend Ellen Wehle’s first book of poetry, The Ocean Liner’s Wake. Ellen’s poems should be read and then read again.
No easy and immediate insights are offered. Perception first, and then awareness, and only then, comprehension. These poems demand attention and reflection. They are smart, tough, intellectually provocative and emotionally powerful. This is architecture, friends, not interior design. There is no unnecessary ornamentation. These poems think the difficult and complete thought. By way of introduction, I’ll share this poem of Ellen’s that I remember her reciting to our Friday might writing group many years ago. A poem I never forgot.
Gravity People don't jump off bridges because they want to die. Perched on the swaying cables, we have never loved life more. Clinging, hands gone dumb, the pigeon shit, the strata of molted feathers. Exultation: two dark wings, a door. * When I was sixteen the Blue Route hung unfinished in the sky, phantom sections of highway that would connect Philadelphia to Allentown. No reason. We'd park and scale the cliff up to girders: me, the boy who loved me. A single catwalk strung over the valley. Edging out. Stars hot as spilled rocket fuel. * I look for it still. Body bowing out from the iron struts, gravity a key dropped from my lap. Then…slowly…the letting go. Right strut. Left. His hand between my shoulder blades; my life locked in his fist. Far below, a rumble of wheels, the magnificat of freight trucks passing.
Also by Ellen Wehle:
Second Coming (via Slate)
(Gravity published with the permission of the author)