My nearly ten years with "The James White Review" kept me around the poetry of James L. White for a long while and these are some of the poems I came to especially love. They are from his book "The Salt Ecstasies" (Graywolf Press).
Transients loiter in downtown parks with the stillness of foxes. One smiles as if I know him near a fountain in his center of light, wearing a faded shirt like summer news. His body invites conversation. They threaten tornadoes through the city as hunters and prey agree on common shelter. The storm enters our skin gathering as we begin the familiar gestures. In his room I speak of death, its promise of ending. He undresses me, telling me how tired I am, that friends have brought me their truths all day. He seems as beautiful as I wish my life was in the boiling light of our slight sweating. Now the old blues before the bad gin and storm. We vow total selfishness and we begin to touch and we begin to rain...
I question what poetry will tremble the wall into hearing or tilt the stone angel's slight wings at words of the past like a memory caught in elms. We see nothing ahead. My people and I lean against great medical buildings with news of our predicted death, and give up mostly between one and three in the morning, never finding space large enough for a true departure, so our eyes gaze earthward, wanting to say something simple as THE MEAL'S TOO SMALL: I WANT MORE. Then we empty from a room on Intensive Care into the sea, releasing our being into the slap of waves. Poems break down here at the thought of arms never coupling into full moons by holding those we love again, and so we restort to the romantic: a white horse set quivering like a slab of marble into dancing flesh. Why remember being around a picnic table over at Brookside Park? We played softball that afternoon. My mother wore her sweater even in the summer because of the diabetes. Night blackened the lake like a caught breath. We packed things up. I think I was going to school that fall or a job somewhere. Michael'd go to Korea. Before we left I hit the torn softball into the lake and Michael said, 'You can't do that for shit James Lee.' Going back I realized the picnic was for us. It started raining in a totally different way, knowing we'd grow right on up into wars and trains and deaths and loving people and leaving them and being left and being alone. That's the way of my life, the ordinary composure of loving, loneliness and death, and too these prayers at the waves, the white horse shimmering, bringing it toward us out of coldest marble.
When I do it, I remember how it was with us. Then my hands remember too, and you're with me again, just the way it was. After work when you'd come in and turn the TV off and sit on the edge of the bed, filling the room with gasoline smell from your overalls, trying not to wake me which you always did. I'd breathe out long and say, 'Hi Jess, you tired baby?' You'd say not so bad and rub my belly, not after me really, just being sweet, and I always though I'd die a little because you smelt like burnt leaves or woodsmoke. We were poor as Job's turkey but we lived well -- the food, a few good movies, good dope, lots of talk, lots of you and me trying on each other's skin. What a sweet gift this is, done with my memory, my cock and hands. Sometimes I'd wake up wondering if I should fix coffee for us before work, almost thinking you're here again, almost seeing your work jacket on the chair. I wonder if you remember what we promised when you took the job in Laramie? Our way of staying in touch with each other. We promised there'd always be times when the sky was perfectly lucid, that we could remember each other through that. You could remember me at my worktable or in the all-night diners, though we'd never call or write. I just have to stop here Jess, I just have to stop.