Letter to Justin from Decatur: Eliot, Jazz & Peace
By Jeff Newberry
I’m sitting in a Decatur, Georgia, motel room & thinking of Michael Harper, who wrote he had a friend who’d risen above jazz. I tell him to stay there, the poem says. I feel the same way about politics: I want to rise above it & stay there. I’m not the enlightened speaker of the poem this time, heavy with epiphany & sacred knowledge. I’ve taken to signing some emails “Shantih,” that peace that surpasseth all, & I wonder who among my recipients bothers Googling the term, & I feel the weigh of guilt by assuming they don’t know the word. Robert Pinsky said he knew a pipe fitter who read poetry. I once worked for an IGA grocery store & the milkman was the spitting image of Phil Levine, bad teeth & all. I couldn’t tell him “Shantih.” We smoked cigarettes in silence before unloading gallons of Borden milk, the jugs sweaty, wet in the morning humidity. I remember their fat weight in my hands, how I groaned each time I lifted a crate of four, how that exhaled breath was a kind of poem. The milkman said that black people wanted to take over the world. Back then, that scared me— anyone taking over the world scared me— now, I’d say, “White folks haven’t done such a good job running the place. Let them have it.” Shantih shantih shantih.
Letter to Newberry about my Visit to Angel Lake, Nevada
By Justin Evans
Dear Jeff: Drove up to Angel Lake nestled high above the small town of Wells, Nevada. It’s the type of place you might expect to find in Europe, a small alpine lake, most might consider nothing more than a pond, but more than adequate for helping to excise the demons of my mind— Politici americanus. The clear air at 8,400 feet is free from pollution and more important, the vitriol of this election cycle which started far too soon. The only sounds heard: birds, insects, water, and leaping fish, are more than enough to blot out the anger of uninformed arguments shouted from the left and the right. While filling out my parking permit I saw an external hearing aid mic left on top of the fee box—a perfect metaphor for this lake—someone leaving behind the world to enter a different world where one might hear with their own ears, unfettered by external apparatus or translation. Looking back from the lake, I could see the vast serenity of Clover Valley spreading out like a floral quilt, muffling the tumult of commentary. Of course that hearing aid was waiting for their owner’s return and descent back into the place where we all live but for a brief moment they were free from constraint and extremism; able to breathe easier. Have you ever heard the words, ‘Altitude, not Attitude’ in your years of reading? Having been to this small mountain lake I can say with some certainty, they are true. Do you have some distant place, far from the rest of the word, a retreat where you can shut out the world? I plan to return to Angel Lake, where I hope to find the sound of my own heart. All the best, Justin
Jeff Newberry teaches in the writing and communications program at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. His most recent book is the novel A Stairway to the Sea(Pulpwood Press). His writing has appeared in a variety of print and electronic publications, including Crab Orchard Review, The Meadow, and Southeast Review. He has poems forthcoming in The Colombia Review and The MacGuffin. Find him online at www.jeffnewberry.com or tweet a 140-character missive to @FlaExile.
Justin Evans’ latest book is Sailing This Nameless Ship (BlazeVOX). His next book, All the Brilliant Ideas I’ve Ever Had, is forthcoming from Foothills Publishing. He lives in rural Nevada with his artist wife, Becky, and their sons, where he teaches at the local high school.