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Paul Christensen

"Poet, memoirist, and critic Christensen brings hammer-on-nail power, meditative humility, and spiky humor to his plain-spoken, sturdily built, solar-plexus-striking poems  [in The Human Condition]. . . complex emotions, vivid memories, searing observations, and resounding objections are conveyed within vital landscapes and neatly encapsulated stories." Booklist





One powerful image can overthrow the whole decaying edifice of empiricism and thrust us back into the medieval mind of gods, miracles, witches, and the wonders of an empowered and self-willed nature. But what is an image? It is a connection between two unrelated things, a lemon and blindness, as in the blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson’s remarkable name; or a glass onion, after a song by the Beatles. Allen Ginsberg explained how he came by his own image-making through study of the brush strokes of Paul Cezanne’s paintings. The downward push of the brush with one color was juxtaposed with another push of paint  – not a continuous or overlapping color but a separate, distinct unit of new color that together captured the skin of a ripe apple. Ginsberg saw this as a breakthrough to grasping the nature of the modern image – such as hydrogen jukebox, which combined the dread of the Atomic Age and the rock music that youth embraced as a gospel of love and escape from a terrifying future. Soft ware is a marvelous image of paper in the computer age; rocket science is a gift from the space age, itself a fine image. Acidhead captures the psychedelic ‘60s; rubber soul comments on the unresponsive nature of modern life.  An image perceives an underlying connection between things that define modern life. A poem needs such connections to remind us that we live in a unified experience, if only we could see it. The Me decade; chick lit; climate change; sex pistols; star wars; mission creep; the electric chair; a clockwork orange.; ghetto blaster; false positive. It takes imagination to find the right and fitting image of a time.




An unwilled force

drives  pale shoots

into the air. Something powerful

underneath it all, harder

than a fist, keeps making things

rise, until they burst

out of nothing into a green becoming.

But why? And what for?

What does it mean to have

mud become flowers,

and weeds, a tree starting out

on a journey of pale roots,

a few buds that ripen?

Come fall, everything’s exhausted,

turning orange, dark brown

until the whole thing collapses

into fallen leaves. Then nothing.

A bed of rotting questions

ready to be buried under snow.


In the ultimate darkness

a metaphysic works its meaning out.

Something requires that idle

grains mingle, merge atoms,

combine minerals, add moisture,

the worm’s breath, the break down

of certain acids, as a stem strings

together molecules in a dark room,

stirring combinations until it elongates

like an erotic muscle, sliding

through the fragile underworld.


Where does it get its motives?

This tiny square of garden

in the far corner of the yard?

I wish it would reveal its hand,

show me a reason why spring

comes at all, what purpose

summer serves before its energy

is spent, and all things wilt

and come apart, fall awry in

a tragic experiment.

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