Editor’s Choice Award: Paula J. Lambert
Paula J. Lambert is a literary and visual artist from Columbus, Ohio. She has authored several collections of poetry including The Ghost of Every Feathered Thing
(FutureCycle 2022) and How to See the World
(Bottom Dog 2020), finalist for the Ohioana Book Award. She has been awarded two Individual Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council and two Greater Columbus Arts Council AITC Grants. She has twice been a resident of the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Lambert owns Full/Crescent Press, a small publisher of poetry books and broadsides, through which she has founded and supported numerous public readings and festivals that support the intersection of poetry and science, including Ohio’s annual Sun & Moon Poetry Festival. paulajlambert.com;
Ars Poetica: Wild Geese
after Mary Oliver
If I said each bird I’ve used in a poem was a symbol
for something else—that preening was a metaphor
or hatching, or hefting a seed
in a beak specifically designed for that purpose—
do you see how the logic might offend the birds
themselves? How it condescends
even to humans
who ought to be better at seeing what the world lays bare
before us? We aren’t, of course. That’s why it’s so tempting
to burden the birds with being more than they are,
something meant to teach us, or sustain us,
to say even the sky must stand for something else,
freedom, maybe—which, nowadays
does feel like a lofty ideal, something out of reach,
something that, however we might aspire to it,
slips through our fingers,
illusion, a meanness,
The sky’s not even blue, you know.
We are, often enough.
And if sky’s not there, were the geese I heard honking
this morning—and I mean, loud, so I looked up to watch them pass—
just a dream, after all? Something I’d conjured?
But that might be me asking you if the geese were more
than geese, or less than,
and we’re right back where we started. What burden
do I place on birds for writing them down
when I only just happened to overhear them?
they were extraordinarily loud, the geese,
and they did seem to call to me
as much as to each other. I lifted my eyes
and whatever spirit is really did seem to soar
And by that logic, the wild geese did offer themselves
to my imagination
And it might be we’re meant to be lifted
by the birds: passerines, waterfowl, raptors. We might be
meant to lift each other. The geese have a long way to go
and might have been showing off.
I might have been part of what kept them awake
or kept them believing they could achieve their impossible journey.
Best, maybe, to see the birds as birds
and as something more. Best, maybe,
to see the world that way
and keep writing it all down. Best
to see this poem as something more than a poem.
On Watching a Time-Lapse Video of the Ice Sheet Covering
Lake Michigan Split in Two and Drift Apart
Something in the silence of it all—
the clean break, the quiet cleaving,
ice bereft of ice, the slow drifting,
the slow relief release slow
dawning: breakthrough, breaking
apart, breaking away, the shadow’s lean
and reach, the new and different light,
the final, golden revelation….
Was there, in the beginning, a low
creaking moan, a sudden screeching
crack in this undoing? And, below,
did they blink and stretch and celebrate
this dawning light, mouths agape?
Did they swim toward it or away,
welcome it or fear it, or—in their usual
hunger—shrug it away? Are they
like us, the fish, the lampreys,
the mussels and sunken ships—
did they see it as if for the first time,
as if it were new, and we were, as if
this did not happen every moment
of every day, every year, every time:
cold hearts breaking and opening
and revealing, and then, somewhere,
closing again? As if this were not
what life is, what love is, as if this
were not what you are, what I am.
In December 2020, Nature reported that human-made
materials weighed 1.1 trillion tons, exceeding the mass
of all living things on the planet.
The weight of steel and concrete, weight
of iron and glass. The weight of streets,
sidewalks, celestial spheres. The weight
of so much grief: populations exploding
while so many species die. The weight
of plastic flamingoes, Tupperware tubs,
swabs, syringes, IV tubes and catheters.
The weight of Band-Aids, diapers, Barbie
dolls and baby dolls. Tonka trucks. Legos.
The weight of home and school, offices
and libraries. Books. The weight of what
we know, the weight of what we wear:
nylon, rayon, Kevlar, spandex. Stretch
denim, wrinkle-free shirts and blouses.
Thong sandals, jelly sandals, eyeglasses,
sunglasses. Prayer beads, prayer rugs,
public art and statuary. Coffee cups and
water bottles. Toilet bowls and toilet brushes,
toothbrushes, hairbrushes, hair pins,
headbands. The miles of tiles underground,
so many miles of trenches. Dump trucks,
bulldozers, city buses, cars. Tanks, guns,
missiles. Ships and sail boats, life preservers.
Fishing poles and fishing line. Kite string,
kites. What we make to measure wind.
The scales we use to measure weight itself.
How we love to know things, make things,
measure things, kill things. How we love
to eat. How little we complain of the weight
we ask the Earth to bear. How much we keen
for what we still don’t have, the gnawing
weight of hunger, the endless need for more.