National Poetry Month Spotlight: Michael Hemmingson

When we drove from the Phoenix airport
and saw the first of the red rocks
and Bell Mountain standing like
an icon, a temple, from a different time,
I wanted to tell you that I had
been here before,
in a different time,
a life lost in my cells but on the edge
of my tongue. These things
are always hard to explain, you know.
I’d tell you later,
as you told me that at one of
the vortices you had a vision
of the past, American-Indians
peacefully gathering and
harvesting the land,
while my perception reached further
back: dinosaurs, slow and heavy,
devouring vegetation.
We were very happy at
that vortex, huddled together
in an alcove on a hill,
as a thin man with little
hair stood on top of
a high pile of rocks,
played a flute for a while,
and then moved his body
about—a dance, a meditation,
whatever he was doing
it was very interesting;
and I thought how neat it would be
to have a flute and play
it out here at the vortex, opening doors to
other dimensions, to lives
forgotten in the cells.
That night, in the motel room, you deeply
slept, but I was in and out of sleep,
I was in and out of memory;
I was visited by a group of people
I knew in some other time,
and they said to me welcome back,
we’re so glad you’re here, welcome back.
This was in 1997. I have gone back since,
alone, without you. You should have been
there with me. I hope you’ve gone
back. Next time I return to Sedona,
to a home I can never
call home, you won’t be there,
but you’ll be in
my cells, like always,
like everything else.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: I don’t remember what I was doing the exact day, but it was a period of poetry writing in the spring of 2003, and I was thinking of places I had been, or wanted to return to, and Sedona was one. I don’t write poetry too often — two or three a year, my main focus is fiction and journalism. I think someday I will move to Sedona.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: Every book I read makes me want to write — but I’d say the last ones were Don Delillio’s Point Omega (Scriber, 2010) and Sharon Olds’ Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002 (Knopf, 2004). And every time I pick up and read Carolyn Forché’s The Country Between Us (Harper and Row, 1981) I want to compose poems.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: Filet mignon at a restaurant in the Grand Canyon.

Michael Hemminsgon’s poetry collection Ourselves or Nothing was recently published by Olympia Press. His short story collection Pictures of Houses with Water Damage is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press this summer.