Friday, June 6, 2014

I Wish I'd Written This

Tom Black

pushed me into my locker
right after I found out

my brother had killed himself.
He didn’t know yet.

A few years later,
a winter dusk in the field

behind our high school:
he, too, pushed a cold trigger.

The next night I walked
through snow to where

the northern lights
fell over the dead field.

The sky crackled in blue ash
above the police ribbon

strung around some stakes.
His sprawled imprint

had melted a little.
It looked like his life

had fallen asleep.
On the white plate

my flashlight made
on the snowfield, the blood

flickered. I turned
my light off and cried.

— Matt Rasmussen

from Black Aperture, winner of the Walt Whitman award for 2012

You can hear Matt Rasmussen reading two other poems from this very beautiful book on YouTube, where he explains that the book is about "my brother's suicide when I was 16 and he was 19". It's extraordinary — not gloomy, as you might imagine, but, in the words of the judge, Jane Hirshfield, “Autobiographical, speculative, imaginal, at times bitterly comic, often lyrically surreal, Matt Rasmussen's transformative poems look outward … [are] built on the observable leaf, field, hand, bird, and act.” 

Someone else suggests that in eschewing the universal and focusing on the specific, he engages us more deeply. Indeed, the poems are totally engaging. I am blown away by this poet's mastery — HOW does he do that with such few, spare words? 

He works as an academic. The Poetry Foundation details his literary and academic achievements. He hails from Minnesota. None of the online references gives his date of birth, but he's clearly still quite young. Pay attention, people — I think this is a great poet at the beginning of his career, and we may expect wonderful things to come.

A poet friend and I were recently discussing the work of someone who is considered a "poet of place". I said that although that someone has some lovely (if self-conscious) lines and phrases, he doesn't make me care.

I am about to email her a copy of "Tom Black", saying. "THIS is poetry of place!" It doesn't even set out to be that; it simply is, in the evocative details. (And is many other things besides.) And it most certainly makes me care!

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).


  1. Amen. I wish I had had this poem to use in my HS classes! Thank you again.

  2. This is a remarkable piece of poetry.

  3. His poetry definitely makes us care. Thanks for featuring him, Rosemary. He writes so movingly. Those details paint such a clear picture. Yes, poetry of place!!!!

  4. This took my breath away...heartbreaking, yet so powerful.

  5. Thank you, Rosemary, for introducing a poet I did not know.

  6. wow that was so small and yet soooo perfectly written!!

  7. Thank you for the profile. That was awesome.

  8. A slice of life that slices with such exquisite a scalpel. Wonderful. Thanks for both the poem (which I do wish I'd written) and the intro to another fine poet Rosemary.

  9. nice...dont think i had ever read matthew...and def does not shy away from the tough topics...will check him out some more....

  10. Excellent choice, Rosemary. I like a poet who writes reality and does not mince words. I would definitely read more of his work!

  11. Adding more to my repertoire of Poetic marvels.Thank you Rosemary. Your selection enhances my knowledge.

  12. So glad you all agree about this brilliant writing. He was unknown to me too, until Amazon kindly suggested the book to me. Once I did the "Look inside" thing, I had to have it!

  13. thanks for sharing this amazing poem. there's a haunting, brutal beauty in those words. this is not to say that death is beautiful, but the images are very hard to shake off.


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