Lisken Van Pelt Dus is a poet, teacher, and martial artist, raised in England, the US, and Mexico, and now living in Massachusetts. Her work can be found in such journals as Conduit, The South Carolina Review, Qarrtsiluni, and Upstreet, and has earned awards and honors from The Comstock Review, The Atlanta Review, and Cider Press Review. Her chapbook, Everywhere at Once, was published by Pudding House Press in 2009, and her first full-length book, What We’re Made Of, is due out from WordTech Communications’ Cherry Grove imprint in May 2016.
I had the pleasure of reading with Lisken at a local poetry event several years ago (we think it was Upstreet Magazine in Pittsfield, but we’re not sure!) where I purchased the above-mentioned chapbook. Recurring images of birds and mountaintops give this collection its uplifting, spacious, graceful character. Like a rushing wind or forest stream, human life is constantly in motion, swept along and altered by the passage of time. “It’s only/January but already birds are practicing song.” The poet’s mission, and her gift to us, is to pull over her bike in the field, or pause at the summit, so that we notice our place on the cosmic wheel and experience a moment of gratitude.
The chapbook is unfortunately out of print, but some of its poems will be included in her forthcoming book, including the two below, which she has kindly allowed me to republish here.
A number of us had gathered
in the curious way the world has
of gathering people, a random
rightness hovering, and then
what we all hoped for
though we could not name it,
sunshine in the dry altitude,
and conversation, and silence
resonant with a depth that made us
listen as if to reach the bottom of it.
At night the moon
scoured the hills and terraces.
Day warmed slowly. We followed
goat tracks up until we reached
a spring, its drinking trough filthy
with horseshit and roiled mud.
We stopped to watch a kestrel dive,
traded stares and greetings
with leathery goat-drivers on horseback,
scaled rocks like steps
to the top of the dusty hill-side.
One hill rose higher still.
The sign said Propiedad Privada but
the barbed wire was mostly trampled
horizontal. This was open land.
We walked into the sky.
This much is accurate.
What happened next
cannot be described so simply.
I too would have thought it impossible:
we reached the top but kept walking,
higher, as if we could fly by striding.
The hill that had seemed so tall
dropped away from us, flap
of wind-whipped ribbons
on huge crosses falling inaudible,
goat-bells paling. I saw
the wind itself rise to lift us.
In the distance the town grew smaller.
To this day I don’t know
how we returned or even if
we came back to the same land
we had left. Dust still clings
to my boots and hawks
still call sharply at the sight of prey.
The sun rises each morning
and the moon cycles.
A number of us depart
and reunite. Two are me.
Flight of Starlings
From the bay window in our living room
it looks like dozens of starlings
have just flown into your workshop below me,
dive-bombers launched from the trees
to the snow-free ground under our eaves.
I imagine them in there, winging
among the tools, perched on the table saw
or pecking at jars of screws and wall plugs.
One loses a feather. When you come home
you’ll find a filigree of spindly footprints
in the sawdust, and the black iridescence
of the bird’s absence. It is something
utterly other, this feather, this bird.
It’s from another place, a place we
can’t get to–it can’t happen
any more than we can go back
to a time before loss. But somewhere
a bird is balancing effortlessly on a branch
or in the air, without that feather.