The Works of AJ Naslund

A. J. Naslund's work has recently appeared in such journals as Caesura, Upstreet 4, Abiko Annual (Japan), and other places. His book of poems, Silk Weather (1999) was brought out by Fleur de-lis Press, Spalding University. A resident of Louisville, Kentucky, Naslund grew up on a farm in Montana in the forties and fifties. He has taught college and university courses in English in the U.S., Japan, and in Korea in recent years. The writer has academic degrees from the University of Montana (Missoula, Montana—B.A. and M.A.) and the University of Louisville (Ph.D.).

All Poems © AJ Naslund


I do not want to write about the massacre
but after all the bodies lie in the street
still before my residence. Smoke waters my
eyes, as I look through curtains moving in
air that readily penetrates my home through
broken windows. They have removed wreckage
of autos and the two tiered bus as evidence
and the charred lamp post has also been
uprooted and taken to headquarters. Since
no one is attending the bodies, this will
have to be their mass for me. I am shamed
by the religious authorities who have failed
us all in this matter. As a poet it should
be my call in a strident time to speak of
maggots and black clotted blood more than
the spirit, but I must bring myself over
morning tea to go beyond. The pale liquid
to whom we are beholden to the Nihongin is
my relief from headstrong realists who, in
a journalistic fervor, believe the truth
lies in facts and photographs. (Perhaps it
is for this reason the bodies have not been
removed?) Sipping noisily as the sign of
good taste in the East, I lift my cup and
retreat to the kitchen, old fashioned man
in whose summer rooms one can still find
the slick spiraling tapes that catch those
little devil flies. Here where so many chance
losses have been grieved, the sugar bowl on
one side, the salt and pepper set slightly
greasy on the back of the electric range, I
begin to believe again that the spirit is
gone now from those corpses, that the whiff
of smoke is not the scent of the many
deaths at all. Something finer, lighter,
a transparent coil of small wind within
translucent air--there rises the spirit,
not back to its maker, but onward toward
one great meeting with everything! I am so
convinced of this, I have courage to pick
up the daily paper (delivered despite the
widespread carnage to my door) to filter
through the news, to look idly at the
page of the dead, the obituaries, and to
laugh. They are not mentioned there, my
stiff visitors. Their names have been un-
done with indifference, for it is too much
of a tsunami of dying to think of dying at
all. We are born to it, this end of things
and we are all going. Upward goes the steam
from my pot, yes up among stuck insects on
the tape, but up, where I still insist we
all are tending. Do not believe me, though,
believe the news. An appalling number of
citizens were born away in the calamity, born
away, and we can forget them. Has this been
enough? Have I said what I said before in a
new way? This life cannot hold me, brother,
sister, and terror cannot hold us all forever.

Meditation on Gasoline

Who is this who stands on a corner,
kin of many if not of all, a child
of our society in fake lamb's wool
parka, her hair blowing, eighteen
or twenty years old? Is she waiting
there for the bus or other gasoline
powered conveyance? To go to the
party, or school, but to join with
the larger blood, flowing in among
many, a bird in the great migration
or to the nesting grounds? It seems
she holds herself slightly stern
despite the smile. Does she need to
find the bathroom, urinate, hold
some other of the many parts of her
will in check for its time? How
will she get back plural with us if
gasoline should fail?--a philosopher's
question, or, no, the question for
the successors of John Maynard
Keynes. If we are out of gas, maybe
we are not out of electricity. It
could be time to look to the sky,
accept the blessing of the sun that
penetrates the cold breeze buffered
by those department-store clothes.
Are they thinking of her, those big
economists? I mean of her. Plainly
the marketeers had her in mind when
sending manufacturing specs to China.

Praise Firewood

Praise firewood sticks for dryness,
for crackling fire, texture before
burning, for the scent of sap for
the odor of rough fiber by oak or
by pine, pitch or cabernet wine. Of
cold nights you have prepared us so
well, and against the madman's spell
when with your threat we raise an
ugly arm to any of the bad guys on
the perimeter. Praise fires for ache
of taking over, of eating hardwood
and burning ponderosa split wood to
a likeable cinder. I sing the hiss
of fireplace logs and the pop of
branches in the back that we all had
forgot till then, raising our beer
cans high in fine aluminum anthems
for the ski cabin that made us all
into Norwegians with knit caps of
family color and legs, oh legs that
could cross-country with the best,
coming back to the easy rest of wood
burning, smelling good, ready even
to heat the cold clay tunnels under
Korean homes, or, as ready in stick
form for that as for the Appalachian
shack, America's poor and holy land.