Mixed Blessings

So I'm sitting around at home this morning looking out on the kind of beautiful fall morning that would usually pull me outdoors. My favorite yard chores are autumn yard chores. But I'm sitting inside because I picked up a head cold & sore throat at school. Colleges are viral breeding grounds. I just don't have the oomph to get out & transplant perennials. Despite the cold, it has been a good semester so far -- across the board, my students seem pretty engaged, though I remain amazed at their meager abilities as readers. And by that I mean, just the ability to get the basic prose meaning of a literary text. "That's weird," they say immediately in response to a poem they don't understand (Stephen Dunn's "Men Talk," hardly a difficult text), dismissing it before they have even tried to suss out the meaning of all its words and images. Reading poetry, they tend to not read sentences, even when there are perfectly clear sentences. I guess they are reading lines as fragments. Perhaps it is just a very weak sense of grammar. And by grammar, I don't mean knowledge of the names of different grammatical entities, but a sense of the way the parts of a sentence relate to each other to create a meaning. I also found out yesterday that I was one of four members of my department who had been nominated to replace our outgoing department chair, though I immediately took myself out of the running. Five years ago I wanted the job & didn't get it, but I don't want it now. I've passed that particular fork in the road. All my ambitions are literary & pedagogical these days. Inspired by Stuart O'Nan's visit to campus, I have begun working on a short story -- my first attempt in 20 years -- & I'm still struggling with my long poem, pieces of which are lying around on my desk, in my notebooks, and on my hard drive like flotsam on the beach after a storm.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

3 thoughts on “Mixed Blessings”


    Under the pomegranate tree
    I watched the death of capitalism

    and my miniature roses spidery
    mites agonizingly mismanage

    the appropriation of money
    is a spiritual science while

    a rich man is a profoundly
    impractical gardener

    does he kill the mites
    or watch the roses die

    suddenly the pomegranate
    tree rayed into me

    all its dreams
    of fairness.

  2. Ah, Peter, that’s a lovely one! Especially since I was just reading the NY Times front page this morning! You really ought to pull a book of these together.

  3. joseph, glad you turned it down. simplify. it’s later than we think.


    My life is your story.
    The where’s and when’s keep turning.
    A spinning plate half-dipping
    into the Pacific Ocean here at Land’s End.
    We are on this tilting/raked stage
    where great ships foundered.
    Their great sentences of life, death—
    unfinished symphonies: the future
    out there our audience
    who’ve driven in to watch.
    Ugly is a sharp paradigm shift.
    Death an epistemological rupture.
    Praise for a tractor, dancing
    for chump change. Red armpits.
    Earth jimjams a jungle, diamond skies,
    long-nailed dogs cut bark, tree
    rats scurry in canopies.
    Telephone call, then a summary, a
    sea change, playground happenings.
    The wheel is round, life pushes.
    Photography winds over time.
    Over the mind a brown shale.
    Everyone there is here.
    It will take a lifetime to flower,
    to fly, to sail this sea this thickening
    light here where I hear voices
    under the surface of consciousness
    the bungled aspirations
    with here now leprosy as a model.
    Roomtone, mouthfeel,
    reordering parts, rationing emotions.
    Grim ire, harmony’s trigger, November.
    Ripening memories pressing upward.
    Death ship for new sowing.
    Thickening light a sea scar.
    Stardust a diminishing gusher.
    Milk as it pinkens sunrise, sunset.
    Roses silt down into a lake of sleep.

    © Edward Mycue

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