Literature 4-28-2008

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Steve Downing

Read this week's winning What Light poem, "Regrets" by Steve Downing (selected by Todd Pederson).

Steve Downing


The head, leaking bristle worms, tumbled in on the
tide’s wrack: blued see-through skin, drain-trap hair,
off-kilter jaw, and one gleaming silver earring, where
half an eyebrow lingered.

This, after the kids had been put to sleep—and the

The registered adults, all assembled at the gasworks,
benumbed by their latest sacrifices, were last on the
scene, by which time the reservists and bag savers had
already claimed the head for their own just-
begun ceremonies.

A chartreuse butterfly—entrapment?—slowly pressed
its magic-trick wings from its perch on the agleam

The tippy head softly grated on its ajar jaw on a
sudden altar of coral and conch in a gusty mercury-
whetted breeze turned particulate by cardboard ash.

The earring glimmered, the butterfly beckoned. Guile?
No, too late for that.

In grey on greyed, the circled reservists and bag
savers rubbed elbows and hummed, as they will,

And thus we determined: release was at hand.

Perhaps, after all, some of the children and pets
should not have been put to sleep.


The smartest sentence ever written is by Niels Bohr, a quantum physics theorist: “We are suspended in language.” Wish I’d said that. All my stuff is storytelling–poetry, mediation reports, grant proposals–everything. A limitation, but there it is. The writers I read (John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion, Cormac McCarthy, others) are all terrific storytellers. I can’t even mimic them, so I do it this way. My favorite poet is Louis Jenkins. If I could write prose poems like his, I’d stop everything else and just pretend to be Louis, period.


Steve Downing has a B.A. from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN. He has been a teacher, house painter, typewriter salesperson, musician, theatre technician, freelance writer/newspaper columnist, conflict resolution mediator, and has occasionally worked for money, too. From 2001-2007 he was Executive Director of the MacRostie Art Center, a regional visual-arts center in Grand Rapids, MN. In May, 2007, he moved up the street to the north side of town, to become Development Director for the Reif Arts Council, which administers the Myles Reif Performing Arts Center.

This week’s poetry and wine pairing: Martin Ray Winery Dry Rose 2007

Our Russian River Valley Rose grapes were harvested and crushed separately, then “cold-soaked” for six hours to concentrate the color and flavors from the skins. The juice (“saigne”) was then drained off and fermented at cool temperatures with Rhone yeasts in stainless steel for 3 months, but received no malolactic fermentation. After fermentation, the wine was racked, cold-settled and then finished in the first screw cap bottle for our Martin Ray brand. This Rose has a vibrant raspberry color and fragrant aromas of tropical peaches, cherry and a hint of violets and vanilla. Fresh, lively flavors of kiwi/strawberry, raspberry and cherry are abundant in this medium-bodied dry wine with excellent acidity and a nice, easy finish. –Martin Ray Winery