T.R. Hummer

A Brief Portfolio
March 21, 2024 Hummer T.R.

Just Past Solstice


the afternoons are perfect
Spans of sunlight from mountain to river, the wind
Holding still like the last breath of someone who’s lived
A happy life, if there ever were such a person—
Soul hanging on for a few seconds more of Being,
Then finally letting go silently, the way a falcon
On a fencepost lifts and vanishes while I glance away,
Its wings perfected by millions of perfect afternoons
To carry it up in one more inaudible arc.
Have mercy, blackjack of light, lifted by no one
To crack my forehead, the center, suddenly, of a circle
Whose bloody circumference is everywhere.



Plantar Fasciitis


I need to be more gentle with the staircase.
The sidewalk is begging me to step lightly
Especially on the right foot, and I am commanded
To watch out for the pebbles and the anthills, to step
With humble compassion on the protruding roots
Of the grand cypruses that were put in the wrong
Plots a generation ago and now are bent
On revenge. But vengeance is mine, saith the cartilage,
I will lay you low. I listen to the voices in my foot.
Be tender with the kitchen floor, they say, have mercy
On the bathroom tile, though I can’t bend down
To clean the grout because of the sermons
In my shameless sole. It is the heel pontificating really,
Whatever the heel is made of that isn’t bone.
I do the Hippocratic stretches, my calves murmur
In protest and appreciation. I wear the royal purple
Inserts in my shoes. I don’t know what life’s about,
But I am learning the calcaneus and the medial malleolus,
Such are the names we give these bits of ourselves—
Is it any wonder we can’t get beyond those dead
Romans and Greeks? I want to name my right middle toe
Sappho, my left Catullus. Everybody gets a word in:
Knee, ankle, physical therapist, and especially the geezer
In the pharmacy aisle whose limp is just like mine,
Bewildered between the corn plasters and the compression socks,
Muttering under his breath My dogs are barking.
I think I might mention that heel Achilles to him,
But wouldn’t Odysseus make more sense, hobbling up
From his ruptured ship into the ghost of his own house,
Hissing Hush! to the lame old hound? Just be careful, hero,
Howls my noble brace of tendons, where you step among the bodies
Of the suitors, it’s really only a little pain, a tiny annoyance
Like slipping in a pool of blood in front of the sideboard
And twisting the anterior tibiotalar. No shame in it: the whole history
Of poetry is bearing down on us, crushing our metatarsals,
Attacking the proximal phalanx in spite of its useless shields,
Establishing the new reign of the dactylic and paeonic,
Dancing over the peace of my slow morning walks, wrenching
My talus and navicular from first position, kicking up my cuboids.





It’s usually around lunchtime that I begin to worry
If nothing is speaking to me, no voice from the bottom
Of the closet or out of the dusty corner cabinet downstairs
Where the most useless things are kept—wedding presents
From irrepressible marriages, party favors from wakes,
Ancient shot glasses bought in souvenir shops
At Niagara Falls and the cave of the Delphic Oracle.
This silence will kill me. This silence will keep me
Even from remembering the quivering shards of dreams
I’m holding onto the way a hyaena clings
To a rhinoceros haunch: the one in which an army
Sends its soldiers’ murderous shadows into combat leaving
Their bodies brilliant and insubstantial, butterflies
Melting in sunlight; and the one in which old actors,
Relics of vaudeville, have me researching endless lists
Of their performances, the great moments they gave
Their lives for, all vanished now, not available even
On YouTube. In this silence I cannot speak
Of the sadness of all those lost frames when they moved
Their lips without lines, emoting like lunatics,
Knowing someone would be pounding on the piano,
How their bodies quivered as shadows broke
Against the ramparts of light and were obliterated.
This monumental grief is why talkies were invented,
So we would not have to sit alone in darkness
Watching dead faces exaggerate the absence
Of any audience whatsoever for a thousand matinees.
If I go down and make lunch, at least the virtual hum
Of the microwave will breathe into me. I will take
The longest spoon in the kitchen and probe
As far as I can down the drain, until I find
A microscopic trace of DNA from the Logos
To feed my voice, and then even in the ugly backyards
And collapsing carports clear down the block
They will hear me finally singing.



A Biography of John Clare, “The Northamptonshire
Peasant Poet,” In Four Songs


for David Baker


1.Lullaby: Hush


Cloudless, birdless sky, sun in a distant quadrant,
nothing to label this view but a fringe of trees
That might grow anywhere, so where am I—
adrift in the temperate zone of my mind? Aloft,
I’d be disembodied, unparticular, absent
the nouns of orientation—eastern towhee, northern
Hawk-owl—or at least a stratocumulus or cirrus radiatus
to remind me how consciousness distracts itself
By naming names. But it’s half past summer in last year’s
almanac, too late to open the field guide. I’m lost here:
I just can’t admit it. Standing on this roadside looking up
I have nowhere to go and a short time to get there.
And the Logos isn’t a compass, friend. It’s a slow, hot wind.



2. Murder Ballad: Silver Dagger


A child, I saw the skeletons of fish intermingle carnally
with the skeletons of water moccasins. I saw a calf,
Stillborn, pulled out of its bawling mother with a winch.
So tell me now what to call the rustic flower all chimbled
On the verge of a weasel’s den. Sing drowking lies
the meadowsweet the way you sang it then.
I’d praise you, old dead man, for knowing so many names
of tiny hidden things not found in any book,
But my hands are bloody. I’m forbidden to touch
the pure Aeolian harp. I am the one cutting off your head
To steal the consonants and vowels you secreted there. Denying it
is the music that matters, I choke your guggling tongue.



3. Hymn: No Hiding Place


The wind is said to sough in the reeds on riverbanks
but my river has stony shores where slabs
Of granite sun themselves like lazy elephants on gravel,
waiting for the next glacier to rock on through
And scatter them again. Could you read the oracle’s dice
on the Hudson’s banks? Coltsfoot, bloodroot, blunt-
Lobed hepatica: I could show you those, they would
flummox you: but blue chicory we have in common.
It blooms and soughs sure enough with the weeds on the banks
of the River Neve, and the Styx, like here: homey, unkillable
As its cousin dandelion, but so naturally unnatural a color
that to stare close and long will strand you in a vacant blue
Distinct from but kin to the emptiest sky where nothing
either of us can name is passing over all the time.
And it’s all about naming names, isn’t it, the poetry of finding
the difference between alyssum and asylum and saying it plain.
Are you now or have you ever been crazy? the stone shoal mutters
like vapours tossed / into the nothingness of scorn and noise.
I refuse to answer on these grounds. I’m holding out on myself.



4. Love Song: Call and Response


Hear us, mole crickets in the larvaed marsh-sedge, hear us
sing you back. Sing back, raven, black wind-opal.
Crush their bodies in your oh yes ravenous beak.
The raven beats even the nightingale at shredding.
Listen long enough and you will love her singing best.
Her croak is the cloak of the cedar, aria of plain air.
You taught me this, silver fritillary, hiding your face
in the fringe of the fens by the devil’s coach horse beetle
And the spoor of the four-spotted chaser. The raven
sings back and listens. She will have you all
If you don’t shut up down there on the wetland’s edge.
But you hear her and sing back and the raven washes
Her shadow over every hummock and molehill, over granaries’
grammars, over epitaphs stressed and rimed, beaten in
Grisled granite—Mary Lies—bone of belovéd bone, dearest ash.

R. Hummer’s most recent books of poetry are After the Afterlife (Acre Books) and three linked volumes, Ephemeron, Skandalon, and Eon (LSU Press). Former editor-in-chief of The Kenyon Review, of The New England Review, and of The Georgia Review, he received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in poetry, a NEA Individual Artist Grant in Poetry, the Richard Wright Award for Artistic Excellence, the Hanes Poetry Prize, and the Donald Justice Award in Poetry. He lives in Cold Spring, NY.