Reach Beyond Reach
(Winner of the 2022 Comstock Review Chapbook Award)
Blood and Soil
I come from this ground where my ancestors still breathe—
prokaryotes and eukaryotes feeding rhizomes feeding leaves
and creatures like me, I'm pure as dirt, cousin to weeds
and worms, my blood recalls before the kingdoms cleaved
and knows it flows from the one river, remembers
climbing green canopies, chattering in other tongues before
branching across continents, through ages, veined hands
and eyes, coursing further and further into difference—
do you recognize me across this distance?
Any blood we spill is our own.
"I marvel at these poems, not only because I hear in them echoes of spirit guides whose songs sustain me--Seamus Heaney, Joy Harjo, Gwendolyn Brooks, old Emerson, Lucille Clifton, Terry Tempest Williams, Louise Erdrich, Yeats, Frost----all those reachers beyond reach who reach for all of us. Beyond and inside the echoes, Jay Udall brings us up close to the varieties and vagaries of being. Wind, crow, cicada, hate, beloved dog, rivers and trees, dark and goodness and madness and joy, and ground itself, all beings he translates into residency inside the lines of this shimmering body of poems." --Darrell Bourque, author of Until We Talk and former Louisiana Poet Laureate
in memoriam, John Lewis
What kind of faith and courage goes to meet
the clubs of state-sponsored brutality
with a toothbrush, an apple, and a book?
Did we invent God out of helplessness?
Is God a cathedral we keep building?
In a knapsack: an apple, toothbrush, book.
If God turned out to be a realm of mind
where a love supreme resides, would that seem
unbearable loss or measureless gift?
Sometimes someone reminds us of the way
with a word or action, a touch or look.
He walked toward raised batons and snapping teeth
with fear, with peace. When you pray, move your feet.
He carried a toothbrush, apple, and book.
"In often startling associative images, Jay Udall, "pure as dirt, cousin to weeds / and worms," negotiates the natural world, listening to tongues of rain and the language of wind, observing his surroundings with a clear, precise eye: "wasps were rare, exotic / how they dangled like earrings in air." A political field guide, eco-conscious and craft wise, Reach Beyond Reach springs from a poet who praises each of the "100 billion ghost particles / Passing through my finger each second." You might wish this companionable book could fit into the back pocket of your jeans." —Michael Waters, author of Caw
The Language of Wind
…the wind brought the sounds of the great sea's
voice to the men on the shore, and they felt they
could then be interpreters.
—Stephen Crane, "The Open Boat"
Now we remember what it is to live
with awe. Now we feel how small we've grown
in its absence. Listen: palm fronds thrashing,
distances arriving. They wear our names
lightly, unmoved by unlucky prayers
as preachers read judgment in angry air.
We wait for those powers to pass, then wake—
walls blown, roofs flown, our power gone out,
a water wilderness, cities adrift,
news of a family trying to escape
the rushing flood in their car, swallowed.
Men smothered by hills turned to flowing mud.
A young girl found clinging to the corpse
of her mother, how she held on all night.
We cling to the promise of restoration,
but sense a sea change upon us—a new
dispensation dawning beyond belief.
No saviors but those in open boats who reach
and pull utter strangers from utter loss.
Now we comprehend the language of wind?