Dr Stephen Haven – The Gist of it

Profile Stephen Haven Live Encounters Poetry & Writing April 2017

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The Gist of it and other poems by Dr Stephen Haven

Stephen Haven is the author of The Last Sacred Place in North America (2012), selected by T.R. Hummer as winner of the New American Press Poetry Prize. He has published two previous collections of poetry, Dust and Bread (Turning Point, 2008), for which he was named 2009 Ohio Poet of the Year, and The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks (University of New Mexico/West End Press, 2004). He is also author of the memoir The River Lock: One Boy’s Life Along the Mohawk (Syracuse University Press, 2008). www.amazon.com/stephenhaven

Haven spent two years as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer in American Poetry at universities in Beijing. He has received residency fellowships at Yaddo, MacDowell, The Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and at the Djerassi Foundation, and five Individual Excellence Awards in Poetry from the Ohio Arts Council. He has twice taught as a writer in residence at the Chautauqua Institute and his poems have appeared in The Southern Review, American Poetry Review, Parnassus, Literary Imagination, Crazyhorse, Guernica, Salmagundi, and in many other journals. He is Director of the Lesley University MFA Program in Creative Writing, in Cambridge, MA.

The Gist of it

Maybe it’s the body’s memory, its muscled bone,
The way a boy plays Rachmaninoff
In and beyond thought, gathers himself

Into a baby grand, the logic of that discipline,
The key note speakers of that house
Climbing like skilled laborers

The scaffolding around a draped mural,
Wings lifting in an open-air cathedral,
Artisans pausing for bread, for coffee only.

What memory registers
Only in the marrow?
Wood, wire, tusked ivory,

The spontaneity, the control,
In which the body acts
As it was taught to do, and passion rides

That moment like a bull no matador
Could tame, could only kill,
The point of that red grace, that slivered denouement,

Never parting them, always part of them,
The mind inviting this totality in,
The beast in its rebellion, taunting the discipline.


“Betya never even had your face slapped!”
It was true. I was eight years old.
Now I’m feeling it in my dead dokko,

Stalk of grass a girl slid on a dare
Slowly into my right ear, where it became
Entirely a rush of air. Today, a doctor saw

An old woman’s face there, the sharp-boned
Fury of a girl, some strange cauliflower
I couldn’t quite hear blooming in

The membrane that was once a tear.
In the small bone mold of me,
Beneath the planter, in that Year of that Rattler

The snakelets were the deadliest.
They gave no warning,
Couldn’t quite shake it,

The mothers sinking in only a measure
Of venom, their small fry letting everything
Go in one fright. Somewhere above

My oldest loves, the silence
Of those sibilants,
That tune I carry always.

This Bench a Concrete Ear

You think it is the tundra calling you
The brush of a cymbal
But it is only a poplar or two,

Shimmer of the singer’s fan
On some worn Beijing stage
Where the women were really men

Coins flashing in the glare
Like the shell game they use to play
Union, Central Square,

The now you see it, now you don’t
Rasp of those shells against concrete
Is the tune you will never whistle

In your own death rattle, the mouth
Of an empty beer bottle
You are the constant chapped drill

Of a face leaning to the planetary spill
Every molecule you gather
In a vessel, everything you own

One minute, this loan,
Time is the element of music
And silence… If only you could tune it

To where you live and why
Someone once split your drum
Bird cries, cicada, these distant arid hills

© Stephen Haven

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