I wrote the poems for Flying Beneath the Dog Star: Poems from a pandemic during National Poetry Month during such a terrible time and found such peace in my search for some kind of faith in a shaken world where my only “knowns” were a cabin porch, a spill of morning sun, and a nuthatch at the feeder. And I wrote it in honor of my sister. And then it was picked up by Finishing Line Press as a semi-finalist for FLP’s 2020 Open Chapbook competition.
“…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?” ― Vincent Willem van Gogh
To the Swallow This Spring at the Nest Box
I own nothing of you nor this leaf that shivers into a half-bud above the phlox and blue flax that burrow with me into this old winter grass. Yet how much I yearn for your blue-struck wing like an arrow over a sun- struck river, as if it were some prayer to fit between my strange and lonely palm, so hollow its feathers, so frail I could breathe through them, so iridescent the sky you harbor down that whoever hammered this wood together did so in such hurry, in such love, that even the nails were left unflattened. And now your nestling waits at this world someone cored into the box for it to see: a little knot of light, a song to dip and break against.
I don’t know what it means to publish a book in the time of a coronavirus. What seemed large just a few weeks ago seems small now in a world of chaos and isolation and the loneliness of people afraid to breathe the same air. But today, on the official release date for Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children, I get to say that my book has finally arrived. Yes, the events and fuss planned around this book have been canceled or postponed, but Slow Arrow is, here, in this world.
The quote from Nietzsche that first sent me on this journey of the book feels as true now as it did then:
The slow arrow of beauty. . . which infiltrates slowly, which we carry along with us almost unnoticed, and meet up with again in dreams.
So many thanks to Ruth Thompson, editor of Saddle Press, and Don Mitchell, Saddle Road’s book designer, for taking on Slow Arrow and making it a beautiful book. Thanks to friends Steve Harvey, Laura Julier, Tom Larson, Bob Root, and the late and wonderful Michael Steinberg for their kind words on Slow Arrow. Thanks to the many literary journals that published pieces from this book. Thanks to the Cattywampus Club for its work on my website, kathrynwinograd.com, its author photos, its video book trailer, and marketing help. And to Chris Moore, who just posted the virtual, hands-free podcast we recorded this weekend for the Situation and the Story. And to Inverted Syntax, which just posted the first part of a two part interview on Slow Arrow
Saddle Road Press lists the links where you can purchase Slow Arrow through Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Powell’s Books, and Indie Bound. If you decide to buy Slow Arrow and you like it, please go back to these links and share what you feel. And watch this video book trailer by Cattywampus.
Starting the Journey to a Book
How did Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children happen? A few years ago, I found a folder in my “cloud” named “On Beauty” under a larger folder named “Beacon.” Six years ago, when my then eighty-five-year-old mother announced that she would be moving to Colorado to live out her last years with me, I had just decided to follow what our former poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey, had said about exploring history through its “gaps” and set out to discover what it meant to be a steward of a little high mountain meadow at 9600 feet Leonard and I had bought and built a cabin on, and the land surrounding it that I knew so little about.
For a year, I wrote a monthly column for Beacon, a since defunct experiment in online journalism, using the land around our cabin near Victor and Cripple Creek as a microcosm for the larger world, both its beauties and the evidence of the environmental issues we face today. It was an exciting year writing those columns. I often took my mother with me through this deceptively remote and arid landscape at the back of Pikes Peak to explore the gold mines, and the wreckage of drought-induced wildfires, and the sudden aspen decline and the fossil quarries where once the first butterfly fossil ever found was unearthed by a homesteader named Charlotte Hill. Each month, I was clueless on how the next column would come together and then I would find my way to an unexpected story, an unexpected fact, an image I couldn’t forget.
And then the journey of writing for the book began.
Writing through the Collage
The essay, “Slow Arrow,” one of the title essays for the book, and the real start of the book, began as a collage — threads and snatches of prose I placed together on the blank page in hopes of puzzling together some momentary meaning. Then the essay unearthed itself from my husband’s Nietzsche books in the study, from the giant puffs of mushrooms I poked with a stick, and the unseen neighbors at that time in the little gulch below us staking out their territory, and from my born-again sister asking me the question that became seminal to the piece, “Why do you write of death?” But those threads only began to work when I remembered the bits of poetry lost in my journals and began to weave these lines of poetry through the essay. Then I discovered the form that allowed me not only reflection and experience, but to stumble into one of my favorite “leaps” in my prose or poetry at the end of the essay: “Our breath,” I write my sister, “flies from us like small sparrows.”
Slow Arrow proved to me, as creative nonfiction always does, the inseparability of poetry and prose.
Creating the Braids
The writing of Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children, the book, was long and sometimes hard and sometimes beautiful. After I finished writing the Beacon columns, I knew I had left placeholders in them for deeper, more personal journeys. As I lead my mother in and out of this landscape, I found myself drawn into not just the history and science of these places but to their metaphorical connections to the emotional landscape and history of my family. The places I had visited, the facts I had learned, the beautiful images I had witnessed still felt resonant to me and filled with the possibility. So I set out to find the threads I needed to braid these “columns” into creative nonfiction essays.
Sometimes the journeys in my book begin with what a tree cutter claims to be a pronghorn caught in the shaky pixels of his girlfriend’s iPhone and lead me to the Path of the Pronghorns in Wyoming and to my Russian immigrant mother-in-law crossing the tundra when she was a young girl caught in the pogrom, and then to the “streamers”—butterflies and birds caught in the solar farm light of 300,000 mirrors that turn these travelers into puffs of smoke. Or I visit a fossil quarry where a ten-year old Ryan teaches me to skin shale with a butter knife to find the carbon imprints of a whole tapestry of vegetation, insect, and animal life that lived when ashes and lava flowed from an Eocene volcano into a flowering lake long lost. And then I remember my father, lost to Alzheimer’s, his face pressed against the glass of the state psych unit. Exploring the gaps of a place turned into the braiding together of these environmental issues I kept finding and what I felt were the sacred and profane intersections of family and personal history. The writing of Slow Arrow turned into a journey I never expected, of getting to know my mother and to cherish her in this time of her life in ways I could never have imagined.
Saddle Road Press (so happy I went with this press) has sent Slow Arrow off to Lightning Source for our first Proof Copy. Thank you to Steve Harvey, Laura Julier, Tom Larson, Robert Root, and Michael Steinberg for their beautiful beautiful book blurbs.