Jim Benton taught English and creative writing in public high schools for almost 20 years in Oklahoma and Texas, helping his students win awards and scholarships for their poetry (not to mention scoring high on standardized writing tests). Eight times he took aspiring poets for an “experiment in living like poets”— 4-5 days in Santa Fe where they lived without electronics and sought out moments of poetry in ancient sites, frigid streams, mountain climbing, hiking, and sitting by the fire. They talked of life and poetry, read their works to each other, lived in community, and created chapbooks of their work on their return. In the years since he retired in 2010, he has devoted more time to writing his own poetry. Early in 2021 eleven of his poems will appear in We Carry the Fire, a non-fiction exploration of the spirituality of social activism by his former professor Richard A. Hoehn (New York: Church Publishing, Inc.).
Toes sinking into the littoral sand, he listens to the sea,
keen to overhear the murky conversation of fish and tide,
to spot a glimmer of numinous fin beneath obscuring waves.
Espying the catch that calls him to the margin, he unfurls
a well-worn ragged net and casts it deep, joining self
to surf and all to all in the casting not the capture.
Though from the dark sometimes he drags a luminous glint,
the celebration of connection is the prize he treasures,
the reward that calls him over and again to the ever-shifting edge
where light rises at dark’s retreat and dark reclaims it by its rise.
Shadow and moment are his delight; transitory and liminal,
his aspiration. He is a fisherman longing to be caught.
Carrying neither creel nor notepad, he trusts his empty net,
the sand beneath his toes, and flush of sun to carry him home.
At dawn, he watches the sun rise, turning his eyes to the west,
where indigo night more quietly yields to day’s blue distance.
The space between the stars catches his eye as surely as their twinkle,
and in the brightest light of day he dances with his shadow.
His work is seeing in the dark — in light and shadow and shade —
extending and inviting the rich connections of clambakes and fishfries,
shrimp boils and seaside picnics, driftwood fires and rising sparks of laughter.
His nets catch and release him to share the lambent links he sees below,
to play the remote music he hears for all to dance and find their own
dim uncertainties below the waves and rising into night.
The Hunting Season
After Ken Hada
the killing season,
season of mastery and command,
the hunter is called to stalk
and slay the slipping away of time,
to master fear
of shortening days, to stake
again the ancient claim
over every living thing
because the looming winter
is the hunter of us all.
rips leaf and limb to bone
reveals skeletal ice alone:
silhouettes at dusk
smokes autumn’s kindling colorfire
broils green to red to gray to white:
frost on ashes
rises hungry in night
devours portions of day as its right:
early afternoon shadows
Destroyer of Life
steals the dancing fluid force
stores lively energy as future source:
beckons ghosts on moonlit wind
strains jagged creaks from ice within:
footprints in snow
Sometime During the Evolution of Species
If rats had genetically softened their coats
bunny rabbit cuddly
or striped them chipmunk cute,
If they had slowly fluffed their tails like squirrels
or lopped them off with a survival-of-the-fittest
If they had learned to sit on their haunches
like sexless meerkats
or taught their progeny winsome
instead of furtive,
We would be tossing supposedly tasty crumbs
with faux-French names and fortified rodential nutrition
under dark low tables to feed them,
Gently lifting them onto our laps to stroke and snuffle,
and giving them clever names
like Nibbles and Whiskers.
Cats would be known
for the monsters they are,
And no campaign to Save-the-Lions,
Cloud Leopards, or Iberian Lynx would gain
the slightest traction.
During the evolution of species,
if rats had more adorably adapted
to the rise of Homo sapiens,
Their role in nursery rhymes and commerce
would be duly refined and augmented,
but they would not be nearly so likely
to survive our extinction.
On Seeing a Moth
She spirals upward,
around a single indoor
tracklight bulb, rises and falls
to dusty immolation,
all too quickly disappears
into my morning
Too long have I circled:
rewind fast forward rewind,
unmysterious murder mysteries,
channel surfing, windows
too long closed to wonder
if moths and planets just outside
spiral upward all too quickly toward the sun.
Too long have I failed to notice
the fragile holy temple, dust to dust
of desiccated moth, the inner light
of once keen wonder swirling
all too easily down
my indoor plumbing.
Scissortail and Redbud
down from Oklahoma City,
a scissor-tailed flycatcher
breezes in with a flourish,
flashes his stunning white breast
for the gathering day.
On the arm of a Texas redbud,
so close I smell his feathery cologne,
he poses for the last shutterclick
of paparazzo lens before the sun —
Rooted in scorched hardscrabble,
rising from heat-sucking asphalt seas,
the tree endures. Silent. Slow.
Her shriveled leaves clutch their green,
proffer scant shade.
wed to the soil till death do part them,
she nurtures life, holds inside
impossible magenta blossoms,
never flies away.
On the Road to Waxahachie
December 21, 2008
On the road to Waxahachie, I look for signs
of hope. A wind too warm for Christmas
rustles dry broomweed. On flatbed haulers
white limestone behemoths wrested
from unnumbered ancient seabed days,
rumble toward new company headquarters.
On the road to Waxahachie — cement plants,
puff-powdered clouds, white-winged poison
angels gather while angular flocks graze gray-shingled
on a Midlothian hillside. Shameless city limit signs
couple back to back, every field for sale,
awaiting further developments.
On the road to Waxahachie, I loop around
a high school football stadium,
scoreboard bigger than Dallas, subcontracted
light poles cracking — a concrete corridor
of corruption, conspicuous consumption,
and commerce too cold even for Texas
On the road to Waxahachie, I look for signs.
Right lane closed ahead. Gun show coming.
Blue sky browns at dusty edges;
daylight yields to headlights. I can see
only what I see.