Considerations of Earth and Sky

Temple Cone

Temple Cone’s poems are grounded in the authenticity of “work that blesses.” Toil, sweat, callused palms, aching muscles, gutted fish, crippled deer, the stink of brackwater… these are the poems’ terrain and the school of body and spirit. “I’m glad/my hands lived those things…/Before learning/to speak, the tongue first lives/as a muscle. Remember that.” It’s clear that Cone remembers it. He remembers, as a boy, taking a boat out day after dogged day under white-hard sun glare, wearing “a second skin of sweat,” “learning the shape of the river.” And “I can’t touch wood now without remembering/that summer in my uncle’s lumber mill”…” More heat, more labor, and a growing respect for the “sure hands” and “never, never wrong” calculations of men he initially tried to avoid because they “joked too hard/with me, straight from college, and didn’t read/Keats over lunch.” Rhythms of work become cadences of knowing, become a flow of poetry as Cone translates experience into a lushness of singing, sensuous lines. His perceptions are equally exercised in the realms of relationship and the natural world. His love poems (those to an actual lover and those to objects of loveliness, such as a stately barn gambrel, “the most beautiful shelter/of any word I know”) are a delight of attention and grace. Cone gives us poems worthy of pondering in their careful adherence to the tenet that insight should never be claimed where one has not been tested in the crucible. Asked by his mother for a story about horses, Cone hesitates. He has ridden horses, fed them, cleaned their stalls and felt in those contacts “a closeness/like you breathing from their lungs, and they yours.” But he hasn’t truly labored with them and for them, so how can he speak of them with the authority of knowing? “I’ve never had to lay hands on one/out of necessity, knowing/if I didn’t break that colt soon, he’d grow wild…/you don’t have any good horse stories/because life hasn’t crushed you/the way the love that loves horses requires,/so you can only identify with their peace/when they’re alone,/or their patient gaze that drinks up pastures,/white after spring rain.” Integrity and esteem infuse Cone’s perspective, winning the way to his refreshing conclusion, “I’d say the world, somehow, suffices.”

Temple Cone is an assistant professor of English at the United States Naval Academy. His poems have appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Green Mountains Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Midwest Quarterly, and elsewhere, and have won awards including the John Lehman Award in Poetry from Wisconsin Quarterly Review and an Academy of American Poets Award. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland with his wife and daughter.

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There’s an owl that barns here
out of season. It’s a way with him,
as with the gleaners in old oils
who hoist their bushels and bend
to the grain. Silver-shawled,
he winters alone in the hayloft.

Sometimes when you’ve lashed bales
on a flatbed for forking in quiet fields,
the owl looks everywhere at you,
lamplight to your steaming face.
You wait in the straw, wishing those eyes,
like blank coins, would test and free you-
that sight, which finally does not come.