Today's poetry for today's world

Carlos Reyes


Carlos Reyes is a noted poet, writer and translator.  His most recent book Pomegranate, Sister of the Heart is published by Lost Horse Books (2012).  His other books of poetry are The Book of Shadows; New and Selected Poems (2009), At the Edge of the Western Wave (2004), and A Suitcase Full of Crows (1995), which was a Bluestem Prize winner and finalist for 1996 Oregon Book Awards.  His books of translations is Poemas de la Isla/Island Poems by Josefina de la Torre (Eastern Washington University Press, 2000).  Reyes’ translation of the Obra poética completa (Complete Poetic Works) of the preeminent Ecuadorean poet Jorge Carrera Andrade, was published in 2004 in a bilingual edition in Ecuador.  He is the publisher/editor of Trask House Books, Inc.  In 2007 he was awarded a Heinrich Boll Fellowship to write on Achill Island, Ireland and in 2008 was awarded the Ethel Fortner Award from St Andrews College.  He was recently the poet-in-Residence in the Joshua Tree National Park.  Reyes lives in Portland but travels often to Ireland and is a frequent visitor to Spain and Ecuador.




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She used

just one


of the empty



as a rolling



when she baked



for his return

like Penelope wove


she baked and if

he did not come


she fed the loaves

to seagulls


As is known

the rolling pin


whether glass

or wood


makes a weapon

she kept it close



in her apron

just in case


the waves

brought someone else




from The Book of Shadows: New and Selected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2009)









                            ––for Seamus Heaney


In late summer my father brings back

a straight piece of hickory from the country,

sharpens his pocket-knife and begins whittling.


He spends weeks on the front stoop

that white piece of wood across his knees,

shaving and planing,

shaping a smooth handled oar.


Every night, home from the garage,

he takes the piece, aims it toward the light,

checks its true, begins his task


whittling between sips of ice tea

dreaming of corn liquor, pausing

to wipe his brow with his railroad kerchief,

then planing and shaving until he loses the light.


I ask him what it is for, fearing

the paddle.  He 

smiles––a rare thing

for him––and says it’s for the boat.


November and the first hard frost comes

even to the city. We head out

to Conway, to my grandmother’s.


A fire of oak is blazing in the yard

the huge iron kettle on its three tiny toes

over the roaring heat and a tripod raised with pulley

for dunking hogs in scalding water. . .


It isn’t the popping of dry sticks in the fire

we don’t want to hear, but that other sound

before the hog drops in its tracks,

or the squeal if the bullet misses.


On the backseat of the ‘39 Essex, the oar––wrapped

in clean white cheesecloth––rests on mohair

until the butchering ends and the rendering begins.


Then my father brings out the oar

to stir the cracklings until they melt into fat

in the huge black cast iron pot he calls the boat,


stirring and stirring until the fat is rendered

poured off, cooled and hardened into pure white lard.


The black iron boat that would hardly float the Osage,

is leaned up against the oak, its perfect oar

that took so many weeks to fashion


thrown onto last coals

to blaze up and disappear in smoke

and ashes of the frosty afternoon.


I would run to the open fire and rescue

the oar now seasoned, tested and cured with pig fat

and sweat from my father’s hands.


But something unknown to me

requires his ritual carving,

shaping a new oar every year.




from The Book of Shadows: New and Selected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2009)







Just past midnight eight hours from Madrid,

the other passenger who speaks only Arabic


thinks he has bought a ticket to Almería.

But it says Mojácar insists the driver, stops


pushes the Arab from the bus.

The driver, whose looks could demand papers,


asks only to see my ticket again, says

to the darkness, to me, I hate people


who don’t know where they are going . . .

Repeats it to make sure I’ve understood


before I fall asleep . . . while the bus,

a beetle with flashing eyes,


rides the spine of a glistening black snake

on down the grade, toward Turre.


Guitars and voices crack the night.

Gypsy moths dance on the face of the moon.




from The Book of Shadows: New and Selected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2009)

Writer's Tip: In poetry as in most lifelong pursuits you need to start early.  If you think you want to write poetry seriously and for the rest of your life, you should spend at least as much time reading poetry as you do writing it.

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