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Those Ancient Chinese Poets

April 14, 2012

I thought I'd wrap up the story of our renovation on Shackford with a few poems written by our client, Tom Sexton. The three poems selected from Tom's recent book, I Think Again of Those Ancient Chinese Poets, University of Alaska Press, 2011, reflect local color, as well as themes near and dear.

Tom Sexton was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1940. He joined the Army out of high school and after basic training was sent to Alaska for three years. He returned to Alaska in 1968 to attend the University of Alaska in Fairbanks where he received an MFA degree. He was one of two professors who began the English Department at the newly established Anchorage campus where he taught for twenty-four years. He was appointed Professor Emeritus of English upon his retirement in 1994. Tom was a founding editor of the Alaska Quarterly Review and was appointed Alaska's Poet Laureate by the Alaska State Legislature in 1995. He served in that position for eight years. Along with his wife and muse, Sharyn, and their adorable Airedale Terrier, Maisy, he lives in Anchorage and spends every other winter in Eastport.

In an effusive review of his latest book, Sheila Nickerson, a former Poet Laureate of Alaska, says, "Tom Sexton's front door opens into the universe. In the company of ancient Chinese poets he generously invites us to step out with him to see how stars, moon, tides, and time connect with Yellow Warblers, wild berries, dragonflies, and weather to give us meaning."

 

Washington County, Maine

Apple trees heavy with the season's fruit,

piebald, yellow, planet-red, even black,

stand abandoned in fields, the unintended

gift of those who long ago moved on,

a gift to waxwings and even to the tone-

deaf crows in their undertaker's suits,

to the man driving slowly, window down,

to the worms in their snow-white orbit.

 

By Passamaquoddy Bay

Thin light over Campobello Island

to the east when I rise to walk

the long abandoned railroad bed.

Not a trace is left of the rails.

I have several letters to answer

and yesterday's paper to read,

but the wild apples are waiting

cold on the tongue, polished by mist.

 

I Think Again of Those Ancient Chinese Poets

Summer with snow still on the mountains

and only a few blossoms on the iris again.

 

My neighbor wonders why I tend to them year

after year with scant success; to him it's clear

 

I've failed. I think again of those ancient Chinese poets

who climbed for days to reach an alpine meadow

 

on the rumour of an iris as dark as the night,

old men calling to each other like cranes in flight.

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