13 July 2012

Steve Shavel

[from Steve Shavel's How Small Brides Survive in Extreme Cold, Verse Press, 2003]

How Small Brides Survive in Extreme Cold [excerpt]


Every word occludes another, just as
every perspective cuts across some larger circuitry — logjams
of purposiveness, the whole farrago
of incidence, everything a something
taken out of context, the stunned minnow
in the heron's crop
mouthing the vowels of horror, or the way
you wake up sometimes with a
loded word on the tongue
the odd fragment
of dream cipher (today no
kidding it was tatterdemalion).

But of the mechanism, spring-
wound, that drives these recirculating
waters, disgorged on the hill towns in
last night's storm or unlocked
from the rockface its last
blue icicle integument, trundling
past stubborn milltowns and
former milltowns, their trestles
cantilevers and
crumbling abutments,
their sullen smokestacks,
rosettes of identical split-
level around the cul-de-sac,

sluiced through the archaic reactor
whose lab-coated acolytes
scrutinize the apparatus, tending
the device
its dread core their queen
hived and bloated with light,

turning bend after bend
of perturbation to get here
where the currents slow to spread their snares
and drop their sediment —
we are all of us oblivious,
taken in entirely by the parade
of forms, the events and detritus
that drift across the meniscus of consciousness.
Only the sandpiper it seems
sees past its own reflection —
and the kingfisher, who lunges now
through the shattered pane
to that low strange corridor
its glimpse of minnow where
last year's leaves in a
spectral cortege, lit
with the amber half-light
of the after-life
leach their tannins or settle
little by little a skeletal tracery
into the bottom silt,
thick as the dust of an undisturbed

While above an unseen hand works feverishly
to smooth the sheet of other-being
over the ever-unmade bed of the river.
And while I'm going on like this
a something noses closer through the shallows,
something I didn't notice, nor
he me til
and recoil
the beaver startled startles back
his blackjack tail on the water's pate
thwack again
in spreading rose-windows
of concussion. The Willow-Manitou
looks on and marvels.
An after-sprite of droplets shivers down.

Several weeks now he's been at it
this waterlogged carpetbagger
interloping both the banks up and down.
Daylong the air endures the rasp
and crepitation of his handiwork, a
jigsaw of precision, each chiselled branch
a deftly-placed sprag in the works.

For these two are pitted
here and everywhere
one against the other:
the curving intelligence of river,
the Cartesian architectonic
of the beaver, part iconoclast
breaking the symmetries,
troubling the face of the waters, part
masonic artificer, geometrician,
master anaesthetician, plotting and fretting
to put the river under and
three or four in confederacy
equal to an entire
army corps of engineers.

But for now the river doesn't give a damn.
Rather it is the dam that gives.
And so on and so forth through the spate of May . . .

Steve Shavel
[photo by Jenna Sunshine]


  1. interesting to see a post about steve. he is amazing as a poet as well as in every other way. but i took this photo! i can prove it because i have the original framed in my living room. where on earth did you find it? i'm not complaining.

  2. Jenna, I found the photo on Google Images, great photo & great poet