Cartography of Water
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From the opening poem of this fine collection, where the speaker announces himself co-conspirator to the sexy moon that “runs” him, to the final poem’s “still life of leaf and cone, poised in death,” these lyrical meditations repeatedly position themselves vis-à-vis a spectacular, uncontainable, and humbling landscape. The author knows when to listen, how to filter winds and currents, seasons and storms as his words “fall off the headlands.” This is not “nature poetry,” whatever that is, but a stunning prayer, sensual and secular, to the earth that the poet adores. He wisely fears that earth a little, too, since it claims us all without comment or care. I’ve been an admirer of Mike Burwell’s work since I published him in Poems & Plays a dozen years ago, and Cartography of Water is long, long overdue. As this talented poet moves your hands across the “cool waist of the planet,” breathe deeply that dizzying Alaskan heaven, and enjoy.
Here, in Cartography of Water, the quietude of the untamed, wilder world is kept company by the wilderness of one man's longing and loud ache. Wolves appear, and bears, and the rusty remnants of old miners' dreams. Also a suffering son, born into his father's world on the back of a meteor shower. Against the beauty and terror of life, the poet holds to words which manage, in turn, to capture and hold up for us some remnant of the brief joys of his world, actual and imagined.
About the Author
Mike Burwell’s poems have appeared in Abiko Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Pacific Review, Poems & Plays, and Utah Wilderness Review. In 1989, his collection North and West was published by Heaven Bone Press, followed by A Chanting of Waters (Embers Press, 1995). The poems in Cartography of Water come from his time in the mountains and on the waters of the West and Alaska.
Selected Poem: Wash Silver
When I slept in the woods I woke before dawn and drank brandy
and listened to the birds until the moon disappeared.
I’m lying if I say the moon ran me, if it did more than spend
its pale time in the sky, hung, or the birdsravens’ clickings
did more than hang briefly in my ears. And there was no brandy,
only beers smuggled in on planes from Ketchikan.
I did not run with beauty, but cut a road’s bright claw through spruce
and rain, watched the trees fall behind me, the earth dug and pushed
away by road builders’ wet, green hunger for the island.
But there were evenings in August when sun returned, and I drove
to the dark cuts in the high blueberries along the road, followed
these paths to the river that flowed from the deep life of Klawock
Lake. I threw in the orange and pink day-glo spinners that I,
needing no luck, used to hook the wild cohos that hit and fought
and ran, most leaping back into the silver mystery of their food
because I would not buy a net to land their dancing.
Some nights with a hooked fish slapping downriver
and the brush trilling with birds, I’d see the whole scene wash silver,
see these slicing fish hurtle like errant moons through the late, deep light.
And I drank the thick, bright milk of it, all of it.
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