Poetry of James Grabill

Read More: A brief interview with James Grabill

Reverberating String

Touch a string on the instrument
that makes sense out of being,
and know yourself a live extension
of everything you might detect.

Recognize the home that exists
wherever your eyes have landed
beneath the vast archaic rivers
of alien stars swallowed by infinity.

Hold the human hand which is half
genetic animal, half what it holds,
after climbing with a native bee
through the heart of the blossom.

In this way, sitting on the catacombs,
the Thinker leans his head on his fist
and senses how young Venus is,
on her seashell the size of a life raft,

while the violin without a musician
still has the west wind resonating
where people have always just
begun to learn what they know.

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Out of the Light in Leaves

The complex brain floats the mind
on its river of stars
which are newly formed cells
taking on life of the body.
While the brain works, it thrives
with old-growth trees behind us,
where they’ve been long before
they saved us, when we found safety
in the heights, on the thick limbs,
in one another’s arms, as we slept
where the mind could clear.
Buoyant, fluid with the latest new cells,
we’re standing together at this end
of our unfathomably long evolution
going on with each move, with more
we now collectively understand.
Because we’ve come from the past
and future, we’ve gotten closer
when the present remakes us,
where fresh cells are a wave lifting us
into the sky as a next rain opens up
over the falls. In planetary circulation,
as rain, we pass through every being
that lives as part of the whole,
surviving on light within leaves.
Have we found the place
where nothing’s finished beginning,
where a wing, maybe of a raven,
has appeared in the sky?
How much of the world
that is making us
can we do without?


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The Life of Lightning

Lightning’s an eruption of current instantly delivered
out of camouflage. Left in a long wait for it to slam
back into the doorframe, thundering down in a blast,
maybe we can sense the atmospheric weight of our lives,

what’s collected over our heads of global agitations, enough
to return us to fundamental bearings of high and low,
cold and hot, here or not exactly, with mooling herds
and tall drinks of lake water circling 1950s Eisenhower

cloverleafs close to expressed hatching cocoons of mantis
that drip a milk of tiny white baby praying mantises
swimming over one another down to the ground,

              where lightning grounds this being
in a lifetime, over a lifetime, as an emanation that begins
and ends within the origin, as a leap instantly completed
from one side of the canyon to the other, as if it were nothing, […]


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James Grabill’s work appears in Caliban, Harvard Review, Terrain, Mobius, Shenandoah, Seattle Review, Stand, and many others. His books include Poem Rising Out of the Earth (1994), An Indigo Scent after the Rain (2003), Lynx House Press, Environmental prose poems, Sea-Level Nerve: Books One (2014) and Two (2015), and Wordcraft of Oregon. For many years, he taught all kinds of writing as well as “systems thinking” and global issues relative to sustainability.

Read More: A brief interview with James Grabill