Friday, December 23, 2011


Sunset on the solstice I stood in a field surrounded by hemlock trees, watching as night slowly seeped up from the ground – a spring of shadows – first filling the brush around the trees, then leaping from live branch to dead branch, until everything around me – slash piles, an old truck, humps of dead grass, boulders – began to change, become what they are when we are sleeping: shape-shifters, capable of entering any dream at will.  
This is why I love winter - the darkness seems to give rise to a world where shadows and bodies have exchanged places. 

Below are three poems that I think evoke the mystery of the long night.  The first, Atlin Lake, is by Erling Friis-Baastad, a brilliant Canadian poet who lives in Whitehorse, Yukon.  This poem can be found in his collection Wood Spoken: New & Selected Poems.  Find it, buy it, read it.  The second, Dream of the Lynx, is by John Haines, once a homesteader in the Alaskan wilderness, and late, great American poet who died this past year at the age of 86.  The third is a death awareness haiku by the 16th century Japanese haiku poet Basho. 

Atlin Lake
All night, the black lake
frets against basalt

Fails to rid itself
of last year’s drowned

In a cabin (only tethered
to dark by frailest chance)

again and again
                          an old man

                         is dislodged
               from someone else’s sleep

(Wood Spoken: New & Selected Poems, Northbound Press, 2004)

 Dream of the Lynx

Beside a narrow trail in the blue
cold of evening the trap is sprung,
and a growling deep in the throat
tells of life risen
to the surface of darkness.

The moon in my dream takes the shape
of animals who walk by its light
and never sleep, whose yellow eyes
are certain of what they seek.

Sinking, floating beneath the eyelid,
the hairy shape of the slayer appears,
a shadow that crouches
hidden in a thicket of alders,
nostrils quivering;
and the ever-deepening track
of the unseen, feeding host.

(Found in The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer: Collected Poems of John Haines, Copper Canyon Press, 1993)

Sick on a journey –
over parched fields
dreams wander on.

(Found in On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho, Penguin Classics, 1986, translated by Lucien Stryk)

No matter where I live, I always find the days around the solstice to be strange and mysterious.  I am now living near a hemlock forest at the edge of the Catskill Mountains in New York state, but on last year’s winter solstice I was living by the sea (Swansea Bay) in Wales, was wandering through Bryn Mill Park, and encountered this:

I came upon an elderly woman staring intently at a lone heron, perched on a wire cage in the dead center of the park pond.  She looked a bit like my Abuelita, my maternal grandmother, her cold-reddened hands clutching a green vinyl purse.  I watched her watch the heron as the sky grew dark and a gibbous moon rose, shining in the black water between pond reeds.  How long she stared – frozen, transfixed – I don’t know.  The heron remained equally still, eyeing her.  I imagined her face inside his eye.  The reeds rattled in the wind…


News of the novel A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind:

 Because of the starred Booklist review in October (found at the end of the previous blog post) the novel has sold out of all stock in North America and will be going into reprint to fill out back orders, and so it will  be available once again in the US and Canada some time in January.  It continues to be available in digital form.

Meanwhile, the novel made Steve Donoghue’s honor roll of best fiction of 2011 at Open Letters Monthly.  His book review blog, Stevereads, can be found here.  What was said:

"There’s quite a lot going on in Gholson’s debut fiction collection, and all of it is orchestrated with such dry wit and deep thought that it barely ripples the surfaces of this story about a handful of remarkable people in a small village in Belgium. That village wakes one day to encounter fish everywhere, fallen on field and street, and the novel’s matter-of-fact surrealism takes off from there. As some of you may know, I usually detest whimsy in fiction – it almost always strikes me as laziness on the part of the author, who mistakes ‘anything can happen in life’ for ‘I can just let anything happen in my fiction’ and then refuses to correct the mistake when it’s pointed out to them. But controlled whimsy – ah, now there’s another story! And that’s what readers get here: wonderfully intelligent, controlled whimsy of a quality rarely seen in contemporary fiction. We should all band together and make this author famous."

And so...

God Bless Us, Everyone.