3 Prose Poems from Leafmold

Limitless, compassionate energy between snow and tree, the fall of each, those several thralls. Fast enough. Bucks in the open, mad with rut. My face is the doe’s, dead in a tepid ditch, a specimen of slowness. After many weeks, the great events happen too quickly to record. While you were there I grew a beard of ice. The dog luxuriated for hours on our blue couch, snoring like the sea. I have written before of elation, but never while elated. Domestic ritual meets capitalism and Christmas ensues, the shade of Elvis Presley lurking between the spruce gears. What I would give for a bowl of soma when it’s four below and the wind subsides. Every clock is a foreign body—a glass-eyed intrusion. Back to it. It in the earth. It in the silence no one considers speaking of. In the loneliness of living alone, tending to the last detail. Drunk by eight thirty, the old man slips into nostalgia like a hawk into a ravine. Next door a woman folds clothes while watching Wheel of Fortune. What is this world but grated melon, pink sludge? Where is China? Where is Arkansas? I know nothing but hunger.

Let me mumble, all in green. All night, out in red, I taught fiddle and lullaby, nothing but steam and buckets. O pride, goodbye. Decline is desire, sometimes. I remember docks and upswings, magic signs: sherry and dynamite. He picked his ride, this poor boy aglow, yet actual. He hears grace like history inlaid with thunder and whining, doesn’t take to dreaming, or furthermore, age. Obsession shaking like boxcars, mirrored to fractal on coals. Less than the floor, broad as recklessness. He meets, winks. Some other. A typical pocketful. Asbestos keeps coming back, like a psalm. Woodcutter, sheriff, millionaire: all running barefoot and wailing. She lost rain from No-Man’s Land to Union Station. Morning, this town, twenty-five miles just to call for sympathy. A chance to circle laurel all along downtown. I knew snow on the sea but never feathers growing upon a machine, unable, somehow, to be like your smile, or any evening where every moment answers. I laugh but bend. Shine. One of these days, no flag.

Dear yellow crescent moon lit beneath the liver: the grass is high every five days and we will pollute our future to beautify it. Dear messiahs of the temporary: we have plungered the clogged sink, purified the countertops, segregated and refrigerated the animal parts—do you imagine us to survive by craft alone? Dear relayer of codes, you must also be the deceiver of gods: the lock we set the combination to and then forget for good. Dear prophet of treeforts: the imagined armies no longer warrant our concern. Dear pit boss of Main Street: our shoes shine your bricks, our eyes lock—something of you makes the year sink in us. Dear trader of noxious, joyous liquids: even if we paint a line on the gravel, the afternoon’s foot traffic erases it. Dear foot traffic: the toe is a weapon of miracles. I feel so very alone right now: wood paneling, beige curtains, bedspread too warm for the season. For four days, no pain at all. This morning, slight action well below the right rib, followed by general dull backache, but gone by lunch. Dear world: always fearing to leave you too soon, I mistake it as best to rush toward the end.

F. Daniel Rzicznek

What is the significance of this work to you? 

My answer is actually tangled up with the next question regarding form. I started the Leafmold project in 2008 after a weary year of repeating myself in my writing and being dismayed with the results. I found my senses of play and wonder had eroded, that I had become too certain of my own poems' trajectories. In short: too much control, not enough wildness. Working in a long, serial prose format freed me of that almost instantly. These pieces come from the middle phase of Leafmold, numbers 263, 163, and 226, respectively. Being a prose poem comprised of 365 individual paragraphs, the pieces also correspond to the dates of the calendar, sans Leap Day. These three pieces represent September 20, June 12, and August 14. (This is of no significance.) 

What is the significance of the form you chose for this work? 

I feel in love with prose poems before I knew what or why they were. I'm still in love with prose poems and other forms that excel at falling between cracks. Choosing an essentially programmatic form (that is to say, lacking what Levertov calls organic form) such as the calendar, I gave myself a chance to stretch my horizons wider than before. Looking back, it was a turning point. 

What was your process for creating this work? 

The title "Leafmold" belies the process: accrual of lyric energy and emotional complexity through random layerings of image, speech, metaphor, and found text. The forest floor gathers energy through similarly random gatherings of convenient and available organic matter. I suppose I could have called these poems "How to Grow Trees." I've always thought of the poems as frozen in process, like seeds in a seedbank, with the end results being the product of an unknowable reader. 

F. Daniel Rzicznek's books of poetry are Settlers (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press), Divination Machine (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press) and Neck of the World (Utah State University Press), and he is coeditor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice (Rose Metal Press). His new poems can be found in Denver Quarterly, American Literary Review, Witness, and Barrow Street. He teaches writing at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.