karla huston | page 5 | spring 2012 number 14

31 05 2012

POETRY DISPATCH #375 | May 31, 2012

Karla Huston

Editor’s Note: It’s good to see two favorite Wisconsin writers, poet Karla Huston. and poet/writer/publisher, R.Chris Halla, come together in this latest PAGE 5, Spring 2012, Number 14.

Halla has been publishing his unique Page 5 on-and-off / occasionally / whenever-the-spirit-moves, finances allow, for going on twenty years now. I think Gary Busha’s, THE OL’ MAN (another little beauty) was the last in 2009.

Fold a 17×12 inch sheet of quality paper in half, fold it again, and there you have it: 5 pages, front cover, back cover (Halla’s own drawings usually/perfectly gracing the cover and inside), two pages of poems on the first opening, and as many poems as you can get on the full opening.

Karla packs all that space with a sure sense of poetry-self and a command of ordinary/extraordinary language that makes even hurtful love worth living for, knowing as only poets do, what’s good for you.

Did I say two favorite writers? Make that three. One of Wisconsin’s finest poets, Mariann Ritzer, provocatively pens her praise (beyond ‘blurb’) for Karla’s work on the whole back page.

What a joy these poems, what a perfect package everything and everybody coming together in five pages. What a deal: $3.00. –Norbert Blei

R. Chris Halla, E&P
W6175 Aerotech Dr.
Appleton, WI 54914


The first time I drank it,
I thought it was cough syrup,
it was so sticky sweet and biting.
After prom, my boyfriend offered
a sip while we sat in his car,
a ’49 Ford with a huge bench seat
perfect for making out.
He tried to get fresh–me heated
and woozy–but even then
I was not going down
that road, his blackberry tongue
in my mouth, hands slipping
into something lacy.
Later and down from my brandy high
I combed Grecian curls from my hair,
each fat coil unfurled–until it was finished.
Clearly I was finished with my boyfriend
because by then he’d taken off,
and I was there with girlfriends
who were in far worse shape.
I never drank blackberry again,
though, I confess to sloe gin,
the crimson drizzle tasting worse
than brandy going down
and coming up, l learned to like
little shorties at a quarter a pop,
to dance in the flash of blacklights,
There was a war going on
in my head and in a place I’d never been,
but in two years, the boys in my class,
many, would be gone. And my guy—
off serving his stint and that car
with its itchy seats–gone,
and my taste for brandy replaced
by beer and a new boyfriend to please,
a new set of rules to swallow.


He’s got it right, the friend who wrote
about a woman wearing a man’s shirt,
the way she can pull his scent to her
and feel his arms around her again.
I think a man likes to see a woman
dressed in his shirt: the sleeves
dangling and the buttons and holes
that go together backwards, the stupid
grin on his face when she tells him
she’s going to pee, and he asks to watch.
She wraps the shirt more tightly
tries to fit her body into every
stitch and seam. She likes the way
the shirt holds her, so soft and so manlike:
that, and the sigh of his breath
in every thread, Yes, that most of all.

A Note On What To Wish On

by Mariann Ritzer

I want to fail in love with poetry the same way I’ve always fallen in love with men–quickly. Karla Huston’s seven unencumbered poems in this collection let me do just that. And then these poems take me on a journey off the interstate and onto the backroads, the country roads where I can hear the wonderful sounds of assonance and consonance in lines and phrases that take me up and down hills, around curves — quickly, slowly. And, as with falling in love, I want some surprises — the kind that make me go back and realize it was the craft, it was each poem’s attention to detail, each poem’s emotional veracity that sustained me.

It’s important to read these poems in sequence first. You don’t want to miss the narrative these seven gems tell collectively about love and sex (and the abyss between). You don’t want to miss how these things can masquerade for each other when you are in the throes of blackberry brandy or wearing a man’s shirt and nothing else or falling painfully out of love while listening to Rod McKuen’s “divine sorrow of words.”

When you’ve read them all, go back and find the moon’s chalky face, dandelions taking flight, the deep dreams of love. Take the slow country road. You’ll fall in love all over again like I did. You’ll know What To Wish On.

norbert blei | skating backwards

27 01 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 167 | January 27, 2009

Skating Backwards

Norbert Blei

Once after the war the small boy went from the city in a new blue Buick convertible and skated a frozen river in a forest preserve with his favorite uncle who was like a father to him.

Uncle Stephan was a soccer player, a soft ball player, an archer, a photographer, a singer, and a speed skater. He was married to Aunt Edith who always complained about her health. Uncle Stephan had a thin mustache and wore flashy shirts and pants the boy’s father called race track clothes. The blue Buick convertible, the family suspected, was bought on the black market after the war when new cars were almost impossible to buy. Uncle Stephan, who worked for his family’s business, which he hated, was a neighborhood butcher who provided for the family during the war when food was scarce. Packages of meat wrapped in pink butcher paper and tied in coarse string would miraculously appear once a week behind their kitchen doors.

There was some mystery and jealousy to Uncle Stephan which was never mentioned outright. Something about the way he dressed, the way he spent money, the way he ignored Aunt Edith while she worshipped him, which was whispered by the father, the mother, aunts and uncles in the family. But in Uncle Stephan’s presence all this disappeared. The family always seemed happy to see him. Everyone ate and drank and laughed and told stories. Often stories in another language. Sometimes Uncle Stephan would reach for the small boy, “Come here, Sport,” grab him and tickle him till the boy screamed, and Aunt Edith would scold the uncle, accuse him of acting like a child, and the boy, filled with laugher and tears, would come back for more.

He loved Uncle Stephan, who often took him for thick strawberry malts, drove him around the city in his black market Buick with the top down, kidded him about girls, taught him to play soccer and soft ball. Uncle Stephan knew everything. All the boy’s aunts loved him. Including the boy’s mother.

“Okay, Sport,” he said to the boy as they approached the frozen river,” let’s see if you can catch me.”

In the boy’s eyes, he had entered a Christmas card world of woods and snow and children in bright mufflers skating on ice in an afternoon sun slowly turning to twilight skies and lavender shadows, backlighting the black branches etched in snow. He skated very slowly, uncertain of his balance, absorbing the natural world around him, feeling a part of it. It was like nothing he ever witnessed or felt in his neighborhood. Nothing so alluring as a river and the quiet of a forest in winter.

This was the same river where one summer he stood on a bridge and watched men fish from green wooden row boats with white numbers painted on the bow. Bullheads and carp and sunfish were somewhere under his feet at the moment, somewhere under the ice. This was the same river he had seen his Uncle Stephan one golden autumn kissing a woman against a tree. The boy pushed hard with his blades, glided, pushed again and fell. Got up and followed the curving river of ice, his legs shaking.

Up ahead he could hear Uncle Stephan singing, see him moving gracefully on black leather skates with long silver blades. See him making a beautiful arc in the distance and pause to wait for the boy under the bare branches of an old willow tree leaning over the frozen bank. A young girl about the same age as the boy, stood next to him.

“Here he comes,” he could hear his uncle tell the girl. “He likes you. He’s shy around pretty girls.” Both the girl and the uncle smiled and began skating backwards in circles around the boy as he approached.

The girl had beautiful dark eyes and long brown hair. She wore a red coat, red mittens, and furry white earmuffs. She stopped in front of the boy and extended her arms toward him. The boy took hold of the girl’s red-mittened hands and followed her as she skated backwards, pulling him toward her.

Slowly he fell into the rhythm, push…pull, push…pull…

The boy was in love with the girl, the long white river of ice, the black branches of the trees overhead against the falling light. The uncle went back to the car to get his camera and took a picture of them skating away from him down the river, holding hands, balancing each other. Neither had much to say and the afternoon passed quickly.

“Time to go, Sport,” the uncle yelled. “It’s getting dark.”

Years later, alone on a small lake a great distance from the city, near an invisible Canadian border where he settled in midlife, the boy who is now the age of his Uncle that afternoon on the river, skates backwards in the night, swiftly gliding around and around a frozen lake, extending his arms toward the darkness, pulling it with him.

Copy of the original publication of the hand-painted cover edition of 25 copies.

from WINTER BOOK, Ellis Press, 2002; originally published by Chris Halla, Page 5, #6, (Limited Edition), 1995, as a chapter of an experimental novel, WHAT I KNOW BY HEART SO FAR. Winter Book is a mature performance with a satisfying sense of completion. The season is winter; the dominant theme is the acceptance of small wonders, including decay and obscurity. Like Blei himself, Winter Book is alternately nostalgic, angry, and amusing. It is in some respects a very public book, in others a very personal collection. The journalistic profiles are Blei’s own experiences and friends, including public figures like Chan Harris and Al Johnson, and Door County natives, poets, musicians, and artists. Blei’s fictions explore the Door landscape on a deeper level. Blei is an astute observer whose attitudes are shared by readers inside and outside the County. Once again the personal becomes the public, and Winter Book, like Door Way, records communal experience.

something to crow about

4 12 2007


Poetry Dispatch No.171 | June 13, 2007

Something to Crow about

Crow Ink by Sharon Auberle

Crows know.
They take their black,
raucous selves,
fire up that attitude
and never look back
at their abandoned nest
high in the pines

I wonder, sometimes,
if our lives might be no more
than the art of crows
written, for awhile
on the sky
then, in an instant,
erased by the wind…

from CROW INK, 2007


Crowlady Karma by Maggie Perry

If I follow down your sad, brown eyes
will I find a field of wild horses
or moon spirits flying wings in the wind?
All the ghosts of your past lovers
run fingers through my hair,
tell me to forget the burned scent of you.

Losing myself in the low flight of crows,
green-eyed bandits give birth.
What about the lives of other birds?
How do they eat? Sleep? Love?
I circle black against yellow sky.

All beggars of light,
your laughing scarecrow ladies
can hang their silk legs out to dry.
Tonight snow and nothing moves
in that secret ice-lace dream.

I spin fine nets of your hair,
hang red flowers as amulets
from dying apple trees.
I will find you.

from CROWLADY LETTERS, Spoon River Poetry Press, 1984

Crow’s Theology by Ted Hughes

Crow realized God loved him—
Otherwise, he would have dropped dead.
So that was proved.
Crow reclined, marvelling, on his heart-beat.

And he realized that God spoke Crow—
Just existing was His revelation.

But what
Loved the stones and spoke stone?
They seemed to exist too.
And what spoke that strange silence
After his clamour of caws faded?

And what loved the shot-pellets
That dribbled from those strung-up mummifying crows?
What spoke the silence of lead?

Crow realized there were two Gods—

One of them much bigger than the other
Loving his enemies
And having all the weapons.

from CROW, Harper & Row, 1971

strichstrich.jpgCrow Goes to Margaritavill by Chris Halla

I count on wax wings and gross beaks
to let me know
when the drinking seasons have begun
When the cherries have over-ripened
then the plums
And in rare, perfect years
strawberries, raspberries

But today
some generous stranger
has left two fingers of Cuervo
on her Saturday patio
and I am sipping my Sunday sermon

Satisfied that God is in his church
and all’s right enough with the world

from CROW, CR+Press, Broadside Beat #6, 2007


Crow Whisperer by Ralph Murre

Moist air, red with sun and lying
heavy as August on the fields,
seems too thick for crows to fly
to homes on the edge of woods,
their day’s work done.
Too warm, even, for their raspy complaints.
They watch, as jets pull open the zippers
that hide the sky’s secrets and
they mourn the loss of the birds’ empire.

Wright Brothers and Plymouth Rock Pilgrims
taking what they cannot return and we,
what all the cawing is about.
Flying sacred skies and bulldozing burials and
what all the cawing is about.
Lighting the dark mystery of the night and
what all the cawing is about.

Maybe I’ll listen,
in the morning’s gathering heat,
to the complaints of crows
and the whispers of the robbed.
Maybe I’ll learn to caw.
Maybe I’ll learn to whisper.

from CRUDE RED BOAT, Cross+Roads Press, 2007


man in black coat… caught
high on white birch branch
flapping about…something

Imakitō Oku


on a withered branch
a crow has settled–
autumn nightfall.