Edgar Allen Poe claimed that poetry was the highest form of literary art, and when someone like Poe says such a thing, lesser artists tend to nod their heads in silent agreement, as I do now.
I am not pretentious enough to believe that I have mastered this art form, but writing poetry has allowed me capture the essence of a momentary impression or emotion that I find cannot be appropriately expressed through the medium of a short story or novel.
What follows is a cross-section of my dabblings over the years. Although I’ve clustered some of the poems, there is no uniting theme, no single idea that I am attempting to communicate. These are merely snatches of the world as I’ve seen it – glimpses of times that were, things I’ve experienced and thoughts that I have scratched into my various journals.
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“Words, Words, Words”
we scratch pen on paper
creating sentence after sentence –
as in a ritual –
and each line
with our ideas.
Stings of words
construct what may be
into what is –
our realities woven and interwoven
from the skein of chaos.
Potential forced into actual.
Possible becoming probable.
They are a weak magic,
words, but our firefly whispers
merge into chants,
and the chorus of millennia,
so that even the cosmos
become fashioned by our will.
Kenneth D. Reimer
Along this lush and tangled coastline,
where the waters rise and fall
with the rhythm of an eternal breath,
there lie littered beside my tracks
the myriad fragments of a lifetime:
bleached splinters of timber,
weather worn stones, and broken shells
whose luster fades with every passing sun,
even as my footprints wash away with the tides.
Ah, those things that have passed,
all but forgotten now,
misted with sadness
misted with joy.
How they once glistened in the sun!
Kenneth D. Reimer
The Avenue of Volcanoes
The low-slung mountains
roll one onto the other
until the lofty horizon
is obscured by delicate clouds of white.
The sloped forest has been cut away
to tattered remnants,
bordered by small farms
that reach almost to the clouds.
Shades of green and gold
hang like patchwork cloaks
on the shoulders of crowded giants.
Below, the valley is buttered with sunlight –
a rainbow green of exploding life
that thrives on the volcanic soil
which once consumed its brethren.
Somewhere in the distance,
The smoldering cone of Tungurahura
dominates the landscape,
but it is now lost in clouds,
capped with permanent ice,
is also hidden from sight.
Kenneth D. Reimer
The setting for the following poem is the Ecuadorian Amazon. I was travelling down a small, black water river, when we came face to face with a black caiman.
The Black Water
The oars strum a liquid rhythm
as the canoe whispers
through the black water.
Conversations are hushed –
if at all –
and the voice of the jungle
rises in staccato declarations,
echoing a tale of clouded inhabitants.
A hand-signal from the guide
and all movement ceases, then
in the hush, we hear a cry.
The guide murmurs, “Toucan,”
but it is too distant;
something else has caught his attention.
and motionless beneath a dead tree
that is propped at an angle above the water,
we see the black caiman.
Very little of the head is visible –
an arc of pebbled rainbow
and a single jewelled eye
that regards us with alien indifference.
Within the canoe,
we are intruders in this world beyond time,
neither predators nor prey,
Stretching out below the brackish surface,
the cold body of the reptile lies hidden by vegetation.
We pass by,
but on our memories
this moment has been etched in its precision.
Kenneth D. Reimer
I left the country of Rwanda experiencing mingled wonder and inspiration. There were moments during that journey, however, when such emotions did not come easily. The poem that I present here arose from one of those darker moments.
I found it impossible to visit the genocide memorials in Kigali and not suffer as a result of what I saw—I doubt anyone could. I do not judge compassion and imagination to be liabilities, but under those circumstances, the deeper your sympathies, the deeper the pain you share. And there was a good deal of pain.
Perhaps oddly, what impacted me the most was the thought of the machetes. In photographs and clips of film, in survivors’ remembrances, this humble tool became a common theme. It was something tangible that had been held by a human hand. I believe that such an object presents the most immediate type of remembrance. It was there, it carries with it a kind of tactile memory. Whatever history it is associated with, it remains a physical connection to the event.
After seeing a cache of machetes that had been used as murder weapons during the genocide, I found that I developed a type of conditioned response: Whenever I saw a man walking the road with an old and battered machete, I could not help but wonder where that weapon had been, and what it had been used for.
One day, I saw a child . . . .
in an alien world –
raucous bubbles respond to
the slow whisper of inhalation.
Above and below.
Earth and sea.
We lie beneath sixty feet of water,
clutching stone blocks
while silent killers
slide amongst us.
The sharks have come to feed.
Encased in a tunic of mail,
the dive master brandishes
chunks of frozen tuna.
The sharks’ eyes flash white,
and the slick stillness of their passage
erupts into violence.
They tear at the meat.
They snap at the diver’s hands.
And we lie still as death,
close enough to touch,
too near for escape.
The dive ends
and we drift toward the world of light.
where we are the killers.
Off the coast of Croatia, there is a small island that hides one of the most unusual caves I’ve ever visited: The Blue Grotto. It opens to the sea and can only be entered at low tide. Even then, you have to travel in a slow-slung boat, and it’s necessary to duck down so that you don’t crack your head on the rock. You float along a dark, long and narrow passageway that finally opens into a miniature cathedral of stone half filled with water. For a short time every day, when the season is right, the sun reaches down through an shaft in the cliffside and sends its light out an opening beneath the water surface. The water in the grotto becomes bathed in light. I wrote this in my journal: “We found ourselves in a narrow cavern with a steep, pointed ceiling, as though we inched along a massive crack in the stone. The pilot moved us cautiously forward until, suddenly it seemed, we perceived an eerie blue luminescence reflecting off the rocks before us. We spun on each other in hushed, excited whispers. The boat swung around an elbow in the cave, and the Blue Grotto opened before us.”
Journal Entry: “It was stunning. The water is a brilliant, light blue, illuminated for several hours midday by sunlight streaming down an open shaft that ends beneath the level of the water. Surface refraction does the rest. There’s no reflection upon the surface of the water, and the rocks beneath are fully lit. The world was turned upside down. One other boat was in there with us, and it was little more than a silhouette upon the water surface. The experience was mystical. The cavern was silent like a cathedral, and we were in awe.”
Here’s a journal entry, and the accompanying poems, written during a midnight crossing of the Adriatic Sea. We were travelling between two islands in Croatia. I include the entry because I think the context of the writing is important for an appreciation of the pieces. On their own, the poems strike me as somewhat mellow-dramatic. Placed in the context of a man (that’s me) sitting alone on the deck of a ship at one-thirty in the morning, I hope you will accept the purple poetry as a reflection of the conditions that were its genesis.
Journal Entry: “I sit on the deck of the Marco Polo staring at the inconceivable immensity of the sea. The massive engines thump and hum in the background, vibrating the entire ship. It’s a gibbous moon in an almost cloudless night. The lights on the deck make the stars difficult to see, creating the illusion that there’s only darkness above me. The image is cold, somehow. Lifeless. On the horizon opposite the moon, the mountainous coastline of Croatia hunches like a dark monster. I can’t explain why, but when I first saw it, I was frightened. Equal to the darkness above me is the darkness below. The reflection of the moon creates a path of illumination, and the ship leaves a broad, churning wake, but these are only surface things. The utter immensity of this water that reaches to all the circular horizon and drops below to a freezing emptiness, completely overwhelms my capacity for language and any meager imagination. This ship is an insect on the back of a slumbering leviathan, undetected, unimportant, absolutely trivial.”
If life happens as it should, this is something that we all suffer-we lose our parents. Although this is a natural thing, and death is as much a part of living as is birth, the pain we experience is still profound. And there’s something more. Whatever our age, while our parents live, we are still children; we can cling to a delusional sense of immortality. Once we are left alone, however, nothing stands between us and death-we are next in line. When our parents die, our childhood dies as well.
Sudden Rush of Blood
Amidst the prosaic concerns
of an ordinary day
it is easy to forget
the cancer that lies waiting.
It’s easy to forget
though she tells you of pills
and bruises darken her skin.
Then, as she walks into the room,
her attention fixed on preparing supper,
nothing more . . .
a sudden rush of blood
colours her arm.
The cancer proclaims,
in a violent flash of red,
that it is there and cannot be denied.
Declares with a sudden rush
that the pain has not yet begun
nor that we can doubt
its inevitable conclusion.