How Time Moves

How Time Moves

New and Selected Poems

by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Meadowlark Press, 2020. Paperback: 326 pages, 978-1-7342477-2-5

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How Time Moves: New and Selected Poems brings together over 30 years of Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's explorations of what it means to be human in a particular place, time, body, history, and story. "She is our teacher speaking from the sky, from the field, from the heartland," writes Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford of this stirring new collection. "Like William Blake’s 'doors of perception,' these pages lead readers inward and outward at once," Denise Low, past poet laureate of Kansas, says of the new poems. The collection also includes poetry from Mirriam-Goldberg's previous six collections: Following the Curve, Chasing Weather, Landed, Animals in the House, Reading the Body, and Lot's Wife. 

"In How Time Moves, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg offers us a magical gift: a compilation of new and selected poems, rich with memory and meaning. 'Expect to be startled,' the poet tells us. And we are," writes poet Joy Roulier Sawyer. Poet Patricia Traxler adds, "This is the real work of a poet--to see and speak the often-hidden truths of a human life in a way that enlightens and informs." Poet Diane Suess points out that "True to its title, time is a paramount issue in these poems—not simply its passing, but its potential, in complicity with imagination, to invent and resurrect the future."

Echoing through all the poems in this book, Mirriam-Goldberg illuminates how to live with greater meaning, vitality, and joy. As she writes in the introduction:

The humming is everywhere, those rhythms of one place or another unfolding where and who we truly are. Of course, we don't just inhabit place: we live in time, a human construct of how we order the world as well as the ecological ground of how seasons shift, weather migrates, and the cycles of birth, age, death, and renewal unfurl. I used to think I was primarily writing about place until it occurred to me that my poetry constantly grapples with what time is and how it moves. Like all of us, I live in the place called time, and that place—a field within the field—is dizzingly diverse and deep, made of stories and histories, callings and yearnings, hard-won wisdom and pure mystery. What does it mean to live in time? I circle around the fire of that question through my poems, gravitating toward what light and heat I glimpse.

Here are some of the new poems from How Time Moves:

Crossing Over

 

At the edge of the yard somewhere in Lithuania,

she takes it all in: the white bark of the forest,

the dark vertical shadows, the tall field between here

and horizon. Wind rises from the banks

of trees and rushes everywhere, reminding her

to lift her chest, inhale sharply, remember.

 

Who will come after her, and then what?

Will the grasses part the same way in tomorrow's weather,

the leaves sing their breaking song, the air hold

the weight of the world evenly around each being?

Is she the first or the last to hear the ending world?

 

From years ahead, I wait for her to turn into the future.

When she does, her face catches the late light,

and she sees me, sitting cross-legged on a wooden floor

in Kansas. What is there to say from there to here

that would help? A cow walks through a parking lot,

a peacock screams, all of us far from oceans, wars,

the urgency of living in a world on the cusp of vanishing.

 

My great-grandmother doesn't know she will die

in that very spot facing away from soldiers and fire.

How most of this village will face the gun or the gas chamber,

quickly or slowly in the camps or holes in the ground,

little space to think the best, last thought.

The air she exhales falls off the earth, like the sun

tonight and every night. Her surviving children

will spread like water on hard ground that softens over time,

so far from her view at the edge of the yard.

 

All she knows is the cleansing light of the wind,

the moment her life balances before her,

the way love can shelter itself as a dark bird not-so-hidden

in the birches, ready to exhale from the leaves

that keep remaking themselves and the breath

from her body that will one day be my body.

 

 

No One Tells You What to Expect

 

A downpour as you're running down Massachusetts Street

in sandals that keep falling off in unexpected puddles.

Ice on power lines. The dying who won't die,

then a single bluebird dead in your driveway.

The deadline or lost check spilling the orderly papers.

The part that isn't made anymore for the carburetor,

or the sudden end of chronic sinus infections

while walking a parking lot unable to find the car.

 

Your best thinking won't be enough to save your daughter

from a bad romance or your friend from leaving the man

she'll regret leaving. Across town, in a quiet gathering

of maples, someone drops to her knees in such sadness

that even the hummingbirds buzz through unnoticed.

The dog gone for days returns wet and hungry,

the phone call reports the CT scan is negative,

and your husband brings you a tiny strawberry,

the first or the last, growing in your backyard.

 

Life will right itself on the water when the right rocks

come along, so let the bend tilt you toward

what comes next: the bottoms that fall out,

the shoes that drop, the wrong email sent

while a cousin you lost touch with decades ago

calls, his voice as familiar as the smell of pot roast.

All the songs you love will return like an old cat.

 

Expect to be startled.

Praise for How Time Moves

"Those familiar with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s verse know the humor, the inventiveness, and the revelations. Her How Time Moves: New and Selected Poems samples generously from all of her books, a span of 25 years. The new poems show a master poet at work, as in 'Thresholds,' where story and song blend to create a further dimension, where 'all the gears of blossom / keep turning, all the doors continually open wide.' Like William Blake’s “doors of perception,” these pages lead readers inward and outward at once. Congratulations to her for this stupendous book! ~ Denise Low, 2007-09 Kansas Poet Laureate, Shadow Light: Poems, Red Mountain Press Editor’s Award

"This poet testifies her tug of kinship to feral storms, kitchen appliances, crows, the pluck of old ladies, helpless love, and other denizens of the wide world brought living to her pages. Drawn from twenty five years of lyric devotion, Caryn brings this harvest to Meadowlark Books in a collection with gifts for everyone: blessing, consolation, self-portrait, field guide, yoga gesture, biblical telling, song, memory, spell. She is our teacher speaking from the sky, from the field, from the heartland." ~ Kim Stafford, Oregon Poet Laureate & author of Wild Honey, Tough Salt

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is a generous and insightful poet, brave in her candor and ever awake to the world around her, ready for all the truth it can offer her each day. In Mirriam-Goldberg's poetry, even cancer becomes epiphany, an occasion of ecstatic awakening. This is the real work of a poet -- to see and speak the often-hidden truths of a human life in a way that enlightens and informs. In the cumulative power of her new and selected poems, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg accomplishes this with grace, insight, courage, and unceasing wonder. ~ Patricia Traxler, author of Naming the Fires

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s How Time Moves enacts the largesse and endurance of the upright piano on its cover, in poems that span a life with 'the urgency of living in a world on the cusp of vanishing.' True to its title, time is a paramount issue in these poems—not simply its passing, but its potential, in complicity with imagination, to invent and resurrect the future. 'From years ahead, I wait for her to turn into the future,' she writes of her great-grandmother in a Lithuanian village whose inhabitants 'will face the gun or the gas chamber,'…and 'the breath/from her body that will one day be my body.' The poems extend over the decades of Mirriam-Goldberg’s extraordinary life, from her childhood in Brooklyn, “where my fingernails formed in utero,” to the Kansas prairie. The bridge between past and future is 'a freeway of stars,' and wind, and breath, and always, for Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, poetry." ~ Diane Seuss, author of Four-Legged Girl and Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl

"In How Time Moves, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg offers us a magical gift: a compilation of new and selected poems, rich with memory and meaning. 'Expect to be startled,' the poet tells us. And we are. Mirriam-Goldberg’s distinctive voice is a steadying hand on the shoulder, as she gently steers us through her treasured Kansas landscape, or turns our gaze toward the faces of her beloveds. The poet reminds us that 'the holy does not play by our rules,' then deftly proceeds to make all things holy: her prayers tucked into Ponderosa pines, cranes who stencil the sky, clouds of tilted silver, the lingering touch of a lover or child. Through her brilliant mastery of craft and and ever-present compassion, Mirriam-Goldberg offers us a wise, humorous, breathtakingly diverse glimpse into her world—as well as the world of our shared human experience. As the poet tenderly says: 'I want to know this song that breaks the mouths / of humans.' Her own song is one of piercing honesty and exuberant hope, a rare voice in a fractured world. How Time Moves lingers long in the heart and mind, an enduring reminder of the deep and lasting power of poetry." ~ Joy Roulier Sawyer, author of Lifeguards and Tongues of Men and Angels

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg admonishes us: 'All the songs you love will return like an old cat. // Expect to be startled.' Believe her. How Time Moves is the glimmering songbook of her poetic oeuvre—a single volume containing a book’s worth of new work in four chapters along with choice excerpts from each of her previous six poetry volumes. Here, time becomes both particle (…the brown bricks chipped / by time and the stress of lasting') and wave ('The friend you love is all ashes now / waiting for you and others to scatter. // The ideas you have about time or what’s right / are lighter than all that ash'). Amidst the tumult of time's flow, there are also introspective interludes: 'Place a wintered leaf / of your old thoughts / on a flat rock. Wait. // Watch what the pine, an arrow / of desire for the sun, does with time…' It is the universality of time’s passage joined with the specificity and intimacy Mirriam-Goldberg uses to illumine and delineate her own times that make this a rare book to cherish, a consummate gift of grace." ~ Roy Beckemeyer, author of Mouth Brimming Over

"For Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, witnessing often means 'dwelling in what we don’t know.' How Time Moves, her stellar new omnibus, allows us to witness a world redolent of possibility, a half-known world in which we can fling ourselves across the dewy air to discover we can fly. Caryn writes, 'to be awake enough in any place is . . . to hear what sings beneath the human-made world.' Layer upon layer of this book houses new and sometimes familiar friends who find each other in the cleansing light of the wind. And if this new collection is indeed a type of house, it is surely a great tree that sings boldly from below our human doings, 'its arms holding up rooms full of birds'." ~ Tyler Robert Sheldon, Editor-in-Chief of MockingHeart Reviewand author of Driving Together 

Praise for Previous Poetry Books

“The poems are as close to prayer as language can get, if prayer is vision that sees into the souls of things and music that makes us move to old healing rhythms. I find myself writing whole stanzas in my journal and quoting phrases to friends wondering, 'Now who said that?' Caryn Miriam Goldberg gives voice to what can't be put into words, sets us free of old paradigms, and writes like a dream.” ~ Julia Alvarez, author of The Woman I Kept To Myselfand Return to Sender

“'Nothing prepares you for the real/,” writes Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg in the soaring flock of tones and images that is this wonderful book of poems. Nothing prepares us, and so we stumble and fall and break into blossom, bite persimmons, and birth ourselves again and again. How any of us weather the darkening climate of these times is a wonder; it is such books as this that help us breathe." ~ David Abram, author, The Spell of the Sensuous

"Mirriam-Goldberg is a master of the paradoxical as she gifts the reader with insights that are at once disconcerting and comforting; as she holds joy and grief in the same hand, and asks us to trust the maker of these poems—her courage, her wisdom, and her truthtelling, as if she's lived infinity." ~ Maureen Seaton, author of Cave of the Yellow Volkswagen and Sex Talks to Girls

"The poems are silver threads that weave through the darkening sky and gates and light unspooling from the heart’s loom a dream of joy and ancestral echoes." ~ Jimmy Santiago Baca, author, A Glass Of Water and Singing At The Gates. Founder, Cedar Tree, Inc.

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s voice is imbued with love, humor and wisdom. She wields plain words powerfully. Her comprehension of nature borders on the absolute. Her wonderful poems state the seamlessness of the cosmic and mundane, the molten paradoxes of intimacy and otherness, identity and separation." ~ Stephanie Mills, author, Epicurian Simplicity andIn Service of the Wild.

"Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is a wise, witty, and wry poet." ~ Alicia Ostriker, author of The Little Space: Poems Selected and New

"These noble, ecstatic poems reflect a woman on the edge of life and death. She runs like any animal into the dark “that isn’t so dark” and with new eyes sees there what sustains her—a different light, a hidden room, hope and healing. Her words capture the richness of Kansas landscape and the internal wildness of animals that feed our very existence, give us courage to breathe in every minute and move on." ~ Perie Longo, author, The Privacy of Wind

"Animals in the House is a collection of poems that celebrates the power of the natural world to shape us into what we’re meant to be. These poems lift us out of the container we call our selves, shape us toward trusting what we can never completely know, place us more firmly on the trustworthy ground of earth that has the power to heal and renew. These poems tell us what matters is what’s up close and they make what matters close in case we’ve forgotten. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg walks through the fire – of her longing, her childhood, her desire, her hauntings – all senses pried open, through “a dark that isn’t so dark” into a light that 'dissolves borders into bluestem'."  ~ Renee Gregorio, author, The Storm That Tames Us

“'The earth is tilting',” Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg writes, offering us unexpected, empowering angles from which to reconsider our traditions.~ Diane Wolkstein, author of Inanna: Queen of Heaven

"There were never two women, just Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg split into myths, riper than pomegranates and out of all time. I love these poems." ~ Stanley Lombardo, translator of The Illiad

Poets Laureate of Kansas Call For the Humanities

In the past few weeks, I’ve been working with three other former or current poets laureate of Kansas to craft our statement in support of the Kansan Humanities Council, and the National Endowment of the Humanities. As Wyatt Townley says, “Kansas is a microcosm of the national arts-and-humanities landscape and the plight it faces.” Please do what you can, and pass it on!

Poets Laureate of Kansas

Statement of Support for the Humanities

What does it mean to be fully human, and what is it worth? It is difficult to quantify the value of the humanities, but we know that investment there yields a big bang for the soul and for the buck. In the current cost-cutting climate, the value—indeed, the very existence—of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has been called into question, though it costs the average American 50 cents a year.

 

One local beneficiary of the NEH is the Kansas Humanities Council (KHC), with its 45-year track record of strengthening civic life. In 2016, KHC provided over 700 free programs to nearly 400,000 people in all 6 sections of the state. The benefit in terms of education, history, and culture is immeasurable, but the real crop KHC grows is community.

 

KHC’s Poet Laureate of Kansas program, adopted in 2013 from the Kansas Arts Commission, is one of our nation’s 44 state poet laureateships. These programs point to poetry’s ability to explore essential values in an age of distraction. Poetry helps us find common ground and develop greater understanding of our shared home, from the tallgrass prairies of the Flint Hills to the windy high plains.

 

As poets laureate, we’ve crisscrossed the state many times, dodging blizzards and tornados to talk with fellow Kansans about things that matter. We averaged 50 public appearances a year—some at colleges, high schools, and grade schools, but most at small-town libraries and community centers. Anyone who thinks of poetry as elitist should ride along with us to Colby (pop. 5,387), or Kinsley (1,457), or Glasco (498), and see how many farmers, miners, nurses, children, and retirees fill up rooms.

 

Having a poet laureate costs Kansas taxpayers almost nothing (the modest travel stipend we receive is paid for entirely by private donors), but the position could not exist without the tireless support of the Kansas Humanities Council, providing staff and resources to help us reach new audiences, particularly in underserved and isolated areas. KHC supports the state economy, bringing people together—often across great distances—which in turn bolsters hotels, restaurants, and other local businesses.

 

Our state poet laureate program has a national reputation for excellence. We have organized conferences that brought dozens of other state poets and hundreds of participants to Kansas. We’ve published regular columns in newspapers statewide and produced award-winning anthologies featuring hundreds of writers for thousands of readers. Our thriving regional literary scene led the Association of Writers & Writing Programs to bring its 2020 conference—one of the biggest writers conferences on Earth, drawing some 13,000 attendees from around the world—to the Kansas City area.

 

We believe in poetry as deep literacy—an experience that engages mind, emotion, body, and spirit. We also believe in Kansas, and the essential work of our superb state humanities council and our national treasure, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Please do all you can—contacting legislators especially (https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials)—to ensure their continuation for the good of us all.

 

Eric McHenry, Poet Laureate of Kansas, 2015-17

Wyatt Townley, Poet Laureate of Kansas, 2013-15

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Poet Laureate of Kansas, 2009-2013

Denise Low, Poet Laureate of Kansas, 2007-09