Roger Mitchell

In Place of Thinking


Was it in high school, college, dream

I saw the frog’s leg muscle twitch?

That’s all there was, the muscle flayed,

tacked to a board, so that a few

cc’s of acid dropped on it brought

it back to what the teacher called


             I wish I had a more exact

memory. Or a memory

that wouldn’t interfere with things.

A mind that didn’t need to think

it was a mind to be a mind.

A twitch in place of thinking. Thought

that could throw rocks across the room

at the drop of a cloud’s shadow.



A Marsh


It’s likely I came from a place like this.

The silken muck at the bottom of it

feels like an early attempt at skin

along the inner arm. The tiny bugs

on the water’s surface flash like a thing

about to break into thinking. The tufts

of last year’s grasses, cattails blown apart,

I know that raspy clatter of wisdom.

It looks good on the page but tastes like dust

if you utter it. I’ll take the moss

that curls to itself and never leaves home,

lichens that grow on rocks. And, of course, rocks.

Broad, level, varied, this place gives water

a break from all that rushing out to sea.



Still Life


He would be twenty-six now, curious,

lean, possibly a runner. Still becoming.

He, too, would have found ways to resist

his father’s hope. What either hope might have been,

I can’t imagine. Certainly not a poet.

He would have met too many poets

to want to be another one.

He may not have been a he, of course,

but I call him that to honor

an old, predictable, foolish, desire.

Daughters are wiser. I learned that by being

one of the other. They’re smarter, too.

Still, when I took what flesh was left after

the D and C, from his mother’s hands

into my hands, I spoke to it

as I thought a father might to a son,

greeting and grieving in the same breath.



Why Did God Make Nettle?


The poem doesn’t know what it wants,

but it knows the minute it hears

the boot on the floor, the catch in the throat.


It watches to see if the snowflake stops

in mid-air. It cheers when the afternoon

fails. It dreams of tomorrow and kisses


it gladly goodbye. It doesn’t ask if

God made nettle, but it praises the child

who, when it stung her, wondered why.

Roger Mitchell is the author of eleven books of poetry, most recently The One Good Bite in the Saw-Grass Plant. His new and selected poems, Lemon Peeled the Moment Before, was published by Ausable Press in 2008. The University of Akron Press published his two previous books, Half/Mask, in 2007 and Delicate Bait, which Charles Simic chose for the Akron Prize, in 2003. Mitchell directed the Creative Writing Program at Indiana University and for a time held the Ruth Lilly Chair of Poetry. Other awards include the Midland Poetry Award, the John Ben Snow Award for Clear Pond, a work of non-fiction, two fellowships each from the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, the River Styx International Poetry Award, and the Ren Hen Press’s Ruskin Art Club Award. He was a 2005 Fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Currently at work on a biography of poet Jean Garrigue, he and his wife, the fiction writer Dorian Gossy, live in Jay, New York.



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