20th Anniversary Reflections
Michael Gushue first appeared in Beltway Poetry Quarterlyin the Fall 2005 Portfolio Issue (Volume 6:4). His work has also appeared in five special themed issues: the DC Places Issue (Summer 2006, Volume 7:3, guest edited by Andrea Carter Brown with Kim Roberts); the U.S. Poets Laureate Issue (Fall 2009, Volume 10:4, in which he profiled Anthony Hecht); the Prose Poetry Issue (Fall 2013, Volume 14:4, guest edited by Abigail Beckel); the Poets Respond to Shakespeare Issue (Summer 2016, Volume 17:3, guest edited by Teri Ellen Cross Davis); and the Virtual Salon Issue (Winter 2017, Volume 18:1). He has served as a guest editor twice; he co-edited the Poets in Federal Government Issue (Summer 2012, Volume 13:3), and the Sonnet Issue (Winter 2015, Volume 16:1). Gushue has been a treasured resource for the journal, an ongoing source of thoughtful and much-needed advice.
He writes: “I was lucky enough to be a guest editor (co-editor!) for two issues of Beltway Poetry Quarterly. The first issue was Poets in Federal Government in 2012. It seems a no brainer that a journal that celebrates the poetry, poets, and places of Washington D.C. and surrounding areas would have a special issue focus on poets who also serve as dedicated civil servants in the Federal government. I told Kim Roberts I was reluctant to take this on for two reasons. First, editing an issue of Beltway sounded daunting, and a bit outside my wheelhouse. The second was my reluctance to combine my day job with my side gig as a poet and someone involved in the literary community. I have tried to keep these two sides of my life firewalled from each other. My model here was Dana Gioia. When asked if his peers at General Foods (where he was Vice President in charge of marketing) knew about his poetry he was horrified. The answer was no.
But Kim is—what’s the word I’m looking for?—persuasive. What convinced me to take on this task was that two of my favorite poets were in the civil service of their respective countries. One was Constantine Peter Cavafy worked in the British-run Egyptian Ministry of Public Works for thirty years, while writing poems that are part of the world’s 20th century canon. The other was Dennis O’Driscoll (Ó hEidirsceoil), the remarkable Irish poet, who had a job at Ireland’s Office of the Revenue Commissioners, specializing in “death duties, stamp duties and customs.” He worked there for thirty years. O’Driscoll always found being called a poet much more embarrassing than being called a civil servant. I admire his ethical code. So I said yes to co-editing the Poets in Federal Government issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly. Spoiler: it turned out to be fun.
My second stint at BPQ as a co-editor/guest editor was for the Sonnet Issue. I’m in no way a poet devoted to traditional forms, but—again—Kim was persuasive. Although this undertaking turned out to be larger than either Kim or I anticipated, I had a great time with editing this issue, in a completely poetry nerd kind of way. Kim and I palavered about theory and practice, form and freedom, and argued about whether a poem qualified as a sonnet or didn’t qualify as a sonnet. We advocated for poems that struck one or the other of us, and struggled with how to choose from among a poet’s submissions. All told, we exchanged over 375 emails putting together the issue. At the time, it was—and I believe still is—the largest issue that Beltway Poetry Quarterly ever put out. I say this with some amount of satisfaction. And I’m grateful to Kim for being—what’s the word I’m looking for?—persistent in getting me to do something that ended up being so rewarding.”
We had no hope our garden could sustain a rose.
One day we saw a red blur hover in the rain: a rose.
In bed, at dawn, the cool spring air chilled our skin
deliciously. We untangled our limbs’ skein, arose.
Gertrude Stein said civilization began with a rose
and this round: ‘Eros is eros is, once again, eros.’
Science seeks truth in a maze of whorls,
but it’s a wonder any day may contain a rose.
From the gun wound his shirt wept, not red, but near black—
a color so deep one drop would deeply stain a rose.
Fold upon fold, an erotic messenger, from stem
to body’s bloom, so like each other: a brain, a rose.
Plato says food and love both flatter our senses;
that’s how this metaphor that might pertain arose:
“For the beloved dish our chef Miguel must not
only have pollo, he must also obtain arroz.”
For our garden’s center and border we planted irises:
bristling leaves to guard their own stand of irises.
If your eye is window to your soul, then a blue quilt,
woven sky, and azure glass is what, offhand, your iris is.
Unscrew the helix, mutate and re-tinker codes, make all
nature manufacture, have our greed command the irises.
The monastery garden at dusk, a thick gouache of shade—
we startled a vixen hiding as we scanned the irises.
Your people carried Eire on their backs, hearth on their tongues:
their language was home, words the band that Irish is.
We were roused from sleep by shuddering flags
and awoke uncomforted in a holy land of irises.
The magician swirls his cape, twirls his cane, doffs his hat;
It’s all misdirection. His stick becomes—suddenly—a wand of irises.
She leads the souls of women to Elysian fields: Your hand
reaching for empty space to where the hand of Iris is.
What haunts me now that you’re gone? My harsh words,
your hurt look: “Michael…” All of it as unplanned as ire is.
Flowers to which we often condescend, the tulips.
But you could do worse in love than to send her tulips.
Her heart murmur dyed the tips of her fingers blue,
and like a fauve doll also—at the end—her tulle lips.
The petal’s dappled flame is viral, parasitic. Weakening
the plant, it asks: Where does beauty depend in tulips?
As we walk into the florist’s shop, our argument flares.
Turning, my arm topples roses, upends the tulips.
P. Cos’s tulipomanic print Viseroij—was it lust, greed?—
was it love?—stealing 3,000 guilders to spend on tulips?
Breed and cross-breed, you never reach the palette’s
asymptote: Black is a color you can’t lend to tulips.
In the fogged car you talked about leaving him—your kiss
flowered against my mouth—how could I mend your two lips?
“Michael,” said your husband, “there’s been an accident”—
I thought: no, a mistake. But I heard your name rend his two lips.
Michael Gushue is co-publisher of the nanopress Poetry Mutual, and co-curator of Poetry at the Watergate. His most recent book is I Never Promised You a Sea Monkey (Editorial Pretzelcoatl, 2017), a collaboration with CL Bledsoe. His other books are the chapbooks Pachinko Mouth (Plan B Press, 2013), Conrad (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2010), and Gathering Down Women (Pudding House Press, 2007). His satirical advice column, with CL Bledsoe, How To Even, can be found at: https://medium.com/@howtoeven/. To read more by this author: Michael Gushue: Fall 2005; Michael Gushue: DC Places Issue; Michael Gushue: Audio Issue.