Bern Mulvey

Paper $15.95
(ISBN 978-0932440-46-4)

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Winner of the 2013 FIELD Poetry Prize

"Cruelly well, / the world works to be beautiful," Bern Mulvey writes in his beautiful and uncompromising second book. Opening with a reflection on the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and its aftermath, the poems in the book's first section are one of the most powerful poetic responses to a public tragedy that I've ever read. Using language that is layered and compact, Mulvey manages to convey the urgency of the experience while always swerving away from melodrama. How rare it is to encounter such outward-looking poems that manage to be both humble and profound. In the later poems, the poet turns the same sharp eye inward, writing about the domestic sphere and memory with the same compressed energy. Cultures collide, relationships are tested and dissolve. At times elegiac, at times bitterly funny, these poems are held together by Mulvey's rigorous technique, his moral vision, and a belief that art might help us assimilate loss and transform even the most dreadful experience into something valuable and lasting.
Steve Gehrke

Bern Mulvey's Deep Snow Country is a compassionate and carefully crafted book. In his poem "How Not to Find a Body" he begins, "Focus on the small...," and he follows his own advice throughout with vivid detail and metaphors that describe monumental events with admirable understatement and specificity. These poems take us deeply into the country of the precise physical world and deeply into the country of the heart.
— Ellen Bass



The Memory of Now

Memory is walking out a back door,
an evening garden, everything in its place
just the angles changing as one moves through,
each shadow, each shape new, set stones today
a stream frozen, forest lane, bridge across,
lantern a tower moss-capped, sentinel,
the no silent, suspended, azaleas
in season now, strawberry bouquets raised,
knotweed and dwarf pine, leaf blades a silver
shimmering. We'd sat right here, how it seems
just like it seemed, all strangely lit, candles
along the main road, sun but a crescent
pink above the mountain tips. The neighbors,
worried about us, had brought by crackers
and Kyushu tangerines, a care package
wrapped tight in the day's horrible headlines.
They stayed for our water and whiskey,
a last, hoarded box of Meiji's Almond
Chocolate. Four pieces each, we ate them
slow, our voices carrying like sirens
in that cold, that awful quiet. And then,
a shudder, branch still shaking as the bird
took flight, dark against a sky darkening.


How Not to Find a Body

Yamada, Japan, 2011

Focus on the small, a doll's right
foot, brass belt knobs, the brother glove.
Look for glitter, the reflected light
off pen tips, marble eyes, a card
case silver and empty. Listen,
the seagulls are out, the black crows
cawing, cacophony, circles
lower and lower around a
single point. Avoid them, avoid
the wide eyes of the old woman
calling and calling the one name,
the man sweeping a door-less stoop,
the boy soldiers with their full bags
in hands shaking. Forget the bus
over, how the lead volunteer
talked about protocol, tidal
patterns and probabilities,
on and on until the last hill
cleared, until an empty valley
opened beneath and all talk stopped.


Landscape With Cherry Blossoms

We hurry out, dog with a low whine, a look back,
somewhere a disconnect, new snow now, the white flags
of our breaths, and yet this narrow lane framed,
hooded by thousands of pale flowers, salmon-cheeked,
the soft insides of conch shells, that certain May air,
savory, like how a perfume applied just right
makes up for everything. First up, ours the sole
sounds, echo to each step, dog warming to the task,
trailblazers, moonlight behind when suddenly
a tea rose rises on the horizon. It's then
we see her, beyond the hedges thin as penwork,
the round-ridged houses, the terrible perfection
of morning, at the tree marking our turn home,
a single statue, snow-laced, the young girl long dead,
hands joined, a prayer, a stone cup filling with spring.


Copyright c 2014 by Bern Mulvey. May not be reproduced without permission.

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