Originally from Mississippi, Terry Hummer has published several books and collections of poetry, including Walt Whitman in Hell: Poems (1996), Useless Virtues (2001), Bluegrass Wasteland: Selected Poems 1978-2003 (2005), and Ephemeron (2011). In addition to poetry, Hummer has produced books on criticism, including his newest, Available Surfaces (2012). Hummer also plays the saxophone, catering to his love for jazz and blues and is a part of the musical collaboration AmeriCamera in Phoenix, AZ. Hummer has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and has received two Pushcart Prizes, along with many other honors. He currently teaches at Arizona State University where he is the Director of the Creative Writing Program.
You Had Studied English As A Child In Another Country
Before, our language churned goats’ milk in the stinking hut.
. It parsed contracts in offices of strip malls, negotiated
Between wheat and the surfaces of grinding stones,
. graveyards and bulldozers, lepers and healing, girls
And field hockey lessons, execution and dismemberment.
. Before, our language demanded an after. Instead an /
Emerges now among the others, lonely as a clichéd Adam:
. First person. Singular. Present. Tense. Past perfect.
Long time we journeyed, not beaching on the foam
. at Ellis Island or on the gray firmament of Brooklyn Heights.
A curse had fallen on us, cast by no one. No blame,
. the Book of Changes said, and mirabile dictu,
There was none: just a great expanse of bile-black ocean
. adrift with rotting haddock and Styrofoam.
The crew collapsed on the gull-fouled deck, licking salt
. from each other’s bellies, oblivious that all we had to do
Was climb the mainmast, tear a hole in the sky, arise, and fly on.
From what the wind wrote
. In the wheat field she took a little hope;
That rippling prosody seemed to promise to give up
. meaning like tea leaves in a cup.
Likewise when her lovers’ unshaven faces
. inscribed their stories on her lips
She almost understood. A universe nearly legible
. expressed her. If only she knew Braille. If only she had taste.
But A Morning Star
Those years they took to making love in the early morning
. before even the birds were awake, before the hound
Who snored in the garden could shake off his houndish dreaming
. and bay the constellations home. For now, this was the cusp,
And after, she would sleep, and he would dress and go down—
. in ordinary time not old or young, but in other systems
Neither had yet been born, or one of them was dying in a muddy trench
. while artillery pounded the mainland. When the war is over
When the crisis of birth has made its peace, when ceremonies
. of passage are complete, and the hound is a heap of bones
Gnawed by hounds in the garden, there will still be the early morning.