Poetry by Jack B. Bedell

 Joel Filipe

Joel Filipe

Père Papineau

            —an Acadian folk tale

I.

The old man should not be met
at water’s edge.

He will come inland,
        follow you back home

hungry.

Always leave him to his thoughts,
         the heron’s cry.

II.

Wanderer                    no bog or hollow
the old man hasn’t crossed.

His hunger pulls him around,
bottomless, ready to consume a man’s weight.

Never try to feed his demands
or give him reason to cast spells.

There’s not enough rice in the field
nor chickens in the coop

to fill the hole in his gut.
Do not confuse his wanting with need.

III.

The nature of the marsh
is to take things in,
interlace water and reed,
heat and sound,
stranger and friend.

The old man, though,
is dos-gris,
and we are all mullet
in his world.

Originally published in Peacock Journal

Summer, Botany Lesson

No matter how many blossoms I point out
           exploding overhead on our neighborhood walk,

my daughter isn’t buying it. She’s in love
           with the sound of bougainvillea, thinks

the word’s so pretty, there’s no way
            it stands for something real. She believes

I made it up, strung long vowels
            and kissy, soft consonants on a strand

of rhythm to make her giggle. I wish
            I could tell a story that would win

her faith, but learn to let it lie. Some truths
            beg for a fight. Some would rather

echo on branches in crooked light
            while you just walk off holding hands.

Originally published in L'Éphémère Review

Space, Not Time

All semester I’ve pushed my students
toward space, into the inviting             white
the page offers.
                Still, they trap themselves
in bunches along the back wall of the room,

bind the lines of their poems to the left margin
where their words can sleep in the security
of the flock. 
             There’ve been moments
when I’ve c-o-a-x-e-d them to the bow of the ship,
gotten them to look off into  the
                            periplum
that lies between where we are         and the horizon,
but never, like WHITMAN, have they hung their heads

over the edge to see how their reflections

shimmer in the waves
                        stretching out
every direction from the path they cut in the water.

Human nature draws them back to the safety
the pack affords, urges them to horde
their words in a single pile, storing them
for a winter that may never come.
                                   I’m running out
of time to show them the nature of this class,
of this place, is to turn them loose into            space.

When the last bell rings, they’ll have to leave
through the door alone,
                     out  into the white light
where all life springs from the
                           [isolate]
                                       word.

Originally published in Wild Culture

 
More than anything, writing poems gives me the opportunity to focus on moments that make every day worthwhile. It trains me to praise. It trains me to notice. It trains me to appreciate. Inside the field of the poem, I’m able to work my way toward hope, even when the starting point might be loss or fear or destruction. And for me, the real beauty of writing from this mindset is that I can carry this focus into my daily life.

Nothing aggravates me more about myself than my tendency to fixate on the mistakes I make between breakfast and bedtime. If I break something in the house, or forget to stop by the grocery store on the way home from work, or worse leave a conversation with one of my children where I’ve spent the whole time telling them what they NEED to be doing without ever mentioning how much I admire who they are, I replay those moments in my head for weeks. Writing poems helps me break out of those useless loops.

Every poem I write is a chance for me to archive the good in my day, or the importance of a family story, or the nuance of a regional folktale that affects who I am indelibly because of where I’ve been raised. Getting any of this on the page is the first step towards me expressing it to the people who are most important to me. In a strange way, it’s like weight training. The heavy lifting I do in my poems, this effort to find the good in the day, to record it, and to express it with care, really makes it easier for me to do the same thing out loud and in person.
— Jack B. Bedell
 
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Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. His latest collections are Elliptic (Yellow Flag Press, 2016), Revenant (Blue Horse Press, 2016), and No Brother, This Storm (Mercer University Press, Fall 2018). He has recently been appointed by Governor John Bel Edwards to serve as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.