Literature 1-8-2007

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Robert Buchko

"What Light" presents a new poem by a Minnesota poet every week. The work is chosen by a jury of writers, publishers, and editors, and sponsored by Magers and Quinn Booksellers. Look for the anthology of What Light poems coming in February!

Robert Buchko

Mind of Rivers

    -for Langston Hughes

Far west of 125th St. & Malcolm X Blvd., where snow deepens
in mountain-folds, and light, for a moment, holds the vanishing-
point of each perspective, a current moves beneath a thin membrane
of ice. It is not the Mississippi nor the Euphrates; not the Congo
nor the Nile, where ashes of your body were planted in water.
It is here, from a frozen shore, that I call you back.

     Above this bend of river, sunlight languishes upon frosted
spines of spruce trees, tagged with orange ribbons, soon to be harvested
and carried away. In a break of the thin canopy a hawk is circling,
turning its head beneath each outstretched wing. From a branch
a mound of snow falls, and I imagine the price of shovels, the cost
of salvation, and the immutable silence of an entire forest
lifted from the earth.

          Years ago, in Harlem, I spoke
with a homeless man who claimed to see your ghost rise, each night,
from a sidewalk-grate outside the Apollo. For three nights I sat with him
from nine to midnight, drinking whiskey and swaying to the music
crackling from his radio. Suddenly, he would stop speaking,
then stare at the rusted grates. His eyes slowly moved
upward, as if watching a river swell in a storm. Each time I asked,
“Where does it go after rising?” His reply, “It just rises, man.
It just keeps rising.”


I have always felt an intense admiration for those artists who are able to communicate the ides of their art. This is not confined to writers alone. In fact, I feel that Kandinsky, Yo-Yo Ma, Nietzsche, Dizzy Gillespie, and Van Gough (to name only a fraction) are some of the most articulate artists in terms of critical analysis of their own aesthetics, and aesthetic discourse in general. I would like to share an Informal Statement of Poetics that, in part, guides my writing and offers some insight into my own aesthetic principles.

“The secret of poetry is silence, the unheard echoes of utterances that wash through us with their solitary innuendos.”

“Style is the ability to see through things— great style is vision.”

“Timing is essence.”

      – Charles Wright

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich

     is not art

      – Issa

“One can speak verbal ‘music’ so long as one remembers that the sound of words is inseparable from their meaning. The notes of music do not denote anything.”

      – W. H. Auden


Robert Buchko earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana, 2001. He has won two Academy of American Poets Awards, and recently was a finalist in New York University’s Washington Square Review Poetry Contest. His poems have appeared in various journals, most recently in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Summer Issue 2006. He has just completed his first manuscript of poems: “Gathering the Wild.” He lives and works in Minneapolis.