Lewiston-Auburn College Atrium Art Gallery

USM Book Arts Poems

The following are poems that are part of the exhibit "Reading, Writing, and Defining: USM Book Arts at Stone House Faculty Exhibition"

Wesley McNair

As the poem begins to take shape, there is always a moment when it becomes smarter than you are, and you must be just as smart to ask it what it wants to do.

–Wesley McNair

From Advice for Beginning Poets, from Wesley McNair’s Mapping the Heart: Reflections on Place and Poetry

How I Became a Poet

  “Wanted” was the word I chose
for him at age eight, drawing the face
of a bad guy with comic-book whiskers,
then showing it to my mother. This was how,

after my father left us, I made her smile
at the same time I told her I missed him,
and how I managed to keep him close by
in that house of perpetual anger,

becoming his accuser and his devoted
accomplice. I learned by writing
to negotiate between what I had,
and that more distant thing I dreamed of.

                                       –Wesley McNair



After the one more day
of work that leaves his work
undone, he wakes

deep in winter in the farmhouse
on the curve of the road,
his dear companion

and children held fast
by the silence that seems
to him like death, and listens

to the muffled if,
if, if
of a downshifting truck
rounding the turn to discover

in snow and ice the nearly
impossible hill, then listens
to the car after car

traveling down, so intent
on how they slow
at the unpredicted, dangerous

turn just below him groping
in their cave of light,
no one could show him

what he sees in the corner
of his eye, these strange, beautiful
flashes moving by reflection

across the sky of his room,
each opening a window
quickly out of a window to make

its long, bright point, the stars
he has saved in spite of himself
all these years from the dark.

                          –Wesley McNair

Driving North in Winter 

All the way to Mercer these
rooms left out
in the dark –

lamplight and two chairs
the old couple sit
reading in,

a table where a family
comes together
for dinner –

the rest of the houses, one
with the night. How
blessed they are,

the man hanging his ordinary
coat in the small world
of a kitchen,

the woman turning to her cupboard,
both of them held
from the cold

and the vastness by nothing
but trusting

and one beam of light,
like us passing by
in the darkness,

you napping, me wide awake
and grateful for this

we’ve also been given, apart
in our way of being
together, living

in the light.

                           –Wesley McNair


Betsy Sholl

At the Public Market (i)

Abandon all hope, reads the hand-scrawled sign
propped beside the lobster tank–some joker
brooding on its murky doom, which looks

more like the world unformed and void,
stirred by a mind feeling that sluggish urge
to make itself known, a mind struggling 

into form, water to gel, to claw and tail,
oozing its way out of slime, stumbling
among bottom feeders, grovelers, creeps

all bunched up, feelers adither
over their future's watery inferno.
How innocent Dante seems at first–

trembling and clutching at Virgil his guide,
as if he hadn't constructed that bucket
of dry ice himself, and personally

tossed each specimen in. Such a din
of marketing all around, it’s easy
to be wilted by guilt, or to rage at

whoever made this place. But to watch
how lobsters madly scramble, you have to
bend close, look through your own shadow

into the tank’s dim algae light,
where a few black beads fiercely eye back–
grabbers and pinchers clawing their way

to the top of some little heap.
And for what?
I suddenly have to ask,
trembling, here, in the middle of my life.   

­                                              –Betsy Sholl     


Because the titmice at the feeder are
all silk and tufted gray, and the cardinals
beautifully paired in their marriage
of subtle and brash, I have to read
the same sentence seven times,
then finally give up and study instead
the suggestions of bright red flashing
as house finches occupy the feeder.
On my lap an essay explaining
Dickinson’s deft ironies, elusive
dashes and slants, so dense I have to stop
wanting to get to the end, the bottom
of anything, and just live in the drift
of phrase and clause, until once again
a feathered thing–a nuthatch heading down
a rutted trunk–catches my eye,and I
am torn like an old uneasy treaty,
within a single mind two tribes dwelling,
people of the book, yes, but also others
literate in seed husk, rain slant, cloud,
a thousand twittering tongues.

                                          –Betsy Sholl  ­


Every Note

It’s that moment the music stops,
the second before hands lift to applaud,
which we would prolong if we could, slip out
without speaking, to hold that instant
just before chairs scrape and conversations
resume over the parking lot’s gravel–

or it’s the moment we first step
out of the museum, and the moon’s newly
minted, fir trees having shrugged into night’s
thick shaggy coat, as stars salt the sky,
and everything’s designed, shaped for delight
or swirled in a fevered moment of swoon,

as when we lie in a sweet tangle of limbs,
and it seems the outer atoms of our flesh
have blended, so you move an arm, Love,
but it’s not the one you thought was yours,
while I rub your back and almost feel inside
your spine’s sinuous assent,

that mystery of a seamless urge, when silence
just after music is filled with every note,
the way light holds an entire spectrum,
or just after love when our separate thoughts
are still only of love: what isn’t love,
or music or light, we ask ourselves then.

                                                   –Betsy Sholl