Today's poetry for today's world

Floyd Skloot


Floyd Skloot's 17 books include Selected Poems: 1970-2005 (Tupelo Press, 2008), winner of a PNBA Book Award and ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year silver award, and six individual collections of poems.  He won a PEN USA Literary Award for his memoir, In the Shadow of Memory, which was followed by two other memoirs, A World of Light and The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer's Life.  He has also published four novels and, in 2011, his first collection of short stories, Cream of Kohlrabi.  Skloot has won three Pushcart Prizes, two PNBA Book Awards, and two Oregon Book Awards. He lives in Portland.




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Photo by Beverly Hallberg.




KANSAS, 1973




My daughter nestled in a plastic seat

is nodding beside me as though in full

agreement with the logic of her dream.

I am glad for her sake the road is straight.

But the dark shimmer of a summer road

where hope and disappointment repeat

themselves all across Kansas like a dull

chorus makes the westward journey seem

itself a dream.  She breathes in one great

gulp, taking deep the blazing air, and stops

my heart until she sighs the breath away.

The sun is stuck directly overhead.


I thought it all would never end.  The drive,

the heat, my child beside me, the bright day

itself, that fathering time in my life.

We were going nowhere and never would,

as in a dream, or in the space between

time and memory.  I saw nothing but sky

beyond the horizon of still treetops

and nothing changing down the road ahead.




Selected Poems: 1970-2005 (Tupelo Press, 2008)




Writer's Comment: "Kansas, 1973" was read by Garrison Keillor on his Writers Almanac radio program. I've been blessed to be the father of Rebecca, who--as this poem recalling some of our earliest times together demonstrates--continues to teach me deep lessons about being human, about love, time, endurance, and hope.







THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME                                         


   I am bound upon a wheel of fire

                     ---King Lear 


He could not imagine himself as Lear.

He could do age.  He could rage on a heath.

Wounded pride, a man gone wild: he could be clear

on those, stalking the stage, ranting beneath

a moon tinged red.  Let words rather than full

throated roars carry fury while the wind

howled.  He could do that.  And the awful pull

of the lost daughter, the old man more sinned

against than sinning.  The whole wheel of fire

thing.  But not play a wayward mind!  Be cut

to the brains, strange to himself, his entire

soul wrenched free, then remember his lines but

act forgetting.  Understand pure nonsense

well enough to make no sense when saying

it.  Wits turned was one thing; wits in absence

performed with wit was something else.  Playing

Lear would force him to inhabit his fear,

fathom the future he had almost reached

already.  Why, just last week, running here

and there to find lost keys, a friend’s name leached

from memory.  Gone.  No, nor could he bring

himself to speak the plain and awful line

that shows the man within the shattered king:

I fear I am not in my perfect mind.




 Selected Poems: 1970-2005 (Tupelo Press, 2008)




Writer's Comment: "The Role of a Lifetime" won a Pushcart Prize in 2007. In telling the story of an aging actor whose preparations for the role of King Lear tap into his deepest fears about memory and its loss, the poem liberated me to confront some of my own issues in the wake of viral-borne brain damage.











Seven pairs of swans preen

this morning near the docks.

We walk down together

searching among the rocks

for a perfect feather

to commemorate the scene.


The swans float, one foot still

tucked underneath a wing,

the other held steady

as a rudder.  They seem

both unconcerned and ready

for whatever the day will


bring them as they drift past.

Soon they are swept away

in pairs where the River

Corrib surges into Galway Bay--

from here just a sliver

of jagged slate-blue glass


but fierce enough to spin

them sideways toward the sea.

Paired still, they carry on

their slow ceremonies,

adjusting with utter calm

to the currents they move in,


content, it would appear,

to end up wherever

they find themselves as long

as they are together,

each feather where it belongs,

each mate with a clear


line of sight to the other.

We have come to the docks'

end emptyhanded.  I turn

back, but she stops to watch,

holding me there as one

small feather drifts to shore. 




Selected Poems: 1970-2005 (Tupelo Press, 2008)





Writer's Comment: "Swans in Galway Bay" was also read by Garrison Keillor on his Writers Almanac radio program.  This love poem for my wife, Beverly, written during our 1994 summer in Ireland, balances colloquial, free language against the restrictions of form in a way that frees expression of powerful emotion for me.  And that suggests the intimacy inherent within the structure of enduring covenant of marriage.




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