Riddle Fishhook Thorn Key
The poems in Riddle Fishhook Thorn Key invite readers to encounter what doesn’t stay still. The longing here is not only to see things—the bones of a whale, a forgotten handkerchief, muddy horses in a field, a forsaken boy on an empty playground—but to inhabit them, to enter the well of other lungs, to go into the throat of a land [we] didn’t know. These poems search for ways to belong in the world, and as they do, even the fleeting and uncertain become illuminated—and intimate.
Cover design: Beth Ford
Publication date: September 15, 2016
Kelly Terwilliger grew up on the Oregon Coast, and is the author of a chapbook of poems, A Glimpse of Oranges. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon, where she works as an oral storyteller and poet/artist-in-residence in public schools.
Praise for Riddle Fishhook Thorn Key
Kelly Terwilliger is making magic. Her fabulous poems, replete with search and mystery, the thoughtful meandering of wise eyes, peer under what we see and see more. "The lost things come and go as they please." Here is presence of tenderness, infinite care and curiosity, shaping a richly vivid world we all would want to live in. Single poems like "Net, Sorrow, Cradle" may be with you forever. Her spirit! Her voice! This book has restored my faith in words, and I am a fan FOREVER.
—Naomi Shihab Nye
In Kelly Terwilliger’s Riddle Fishhook Thorn Key, the poet declares, "You have to be willing to take up more space than you fill." Her poems expand to contain the sea, the sky, and the personal rooms of memory. "I want the gesture that lets you be more." This lush new collection is that gesture.
—Penelope Scambly Schott
"There is a slide of time/ over time" writes Kelly Terwilliger in her first full length collection, Riddle Fishhook Thorn Key, where her poems open, yield and merge with the imagery of the natural world they often embody, a porousness which extends to memory, how it slides over its losses until the grief of past is present, recovered, both revisited and transformed. What I love, and what each reading of Terwilliger’s transcendent poems reveals, is the lack of the absolute. This poet follows, wonders if she has the right to get so close to the edge, then follows again, wanting what is watery, dissolving, transparent as the threshold between self and world her poems invoke with disarming radiance again and again.
Excerpts from Riddle Fishhook Thorn Key
When the nth Term is Infinite
Air crackles like cold
fins swimming currents of quickening
dark. Under ice
In ordinary hours I have given names
to the long-legged flying ones
that appear in my house
and rest on the walls.
I have named the casual deer, their various children.
The vole that keeps dying
But the door that blows open
to the sound of rain: what is its name?
Louder now, drumming
on the tin roof of my tongue. A song
under the night garage.
The gravel, the woodpile, the rope swing.
The blue canoe floating forever
The roar of the rain. I have
no name for this. No name
The air trembles. And sometimes—
Stubborn rind. Peel it back,
gently, lift it… what is there? What is
Swimming Behind the Hospital
Green blackberries on the bank and a black and yellow
snake unlacing the dry grass and
day falling away
into blue blue clear blue
the sky’s thin goblet rim
ringing where you rub
and if you edge down the rocks behind the hospital
the river goes swift, strong enough to carry
a body away
but kick hard & you’ll catch
the rocky wrist of the island laid out in the sun
like a man sleeping, the water rushing
by his arms by his side.
We let ourselves fall into the green muscle
of current and fly with it
then fight it
crossing onto dry rocks, the sun
leaning over us, the air
thick with eagles and herons folding into gone.
No one stays for long.
But those cool green
arms can hold you. You can go, and glide
and wrestle back to dry light.
Again and again
we climb out and feel new. And the sky
lifts its blue glass. Behind the trees behind us, people lie in their beds
dying, or trying not to.
Let me think of fast water, then—
the slick of blood on my shin, the way my knees have trembled with cold,
flying down and coming out again
into warm summer air.
Around the World
When I heard they were aiming
to sail, I thought: fifteen months.
That’s a long time to be on a boat.
And across the Pacific—how many days with no land?
But this is the feat: the immensity
of circling the globe
in the end, intensely private.
Maybe you brush up against the flank
of some continent, and you see people
living their everyday extraordinary lives,
washing the street in front of a shop, spreading
seaweed over the rocks to dry.
You alight a minute, and then you simply
the sea heaving, the wind becoming
so changeably precise. The longing, day after day,
to see whales, breathing, nearby. And how often,
really, do they surface? Isn’t most of life hoping
to be close to some miracle,
its surprise?—the soft body
of the dead mole by the side of the road
I saw so briefly, riding by. Lying on its back,
muffled belly, the naked paws of digging
held open to bare light, and the sun spreading its
long fingers everywhere, rubbing in
that final gold. Or when I saw Mr.Cole
stopping by his mailbox, I waited at the bottom of the hill—
I don’t know why— as he opened
his car door and climbed out, slowly,
his eyes finding level. He moved around the front of the car
like a tipped tree
carrying an invisible accumulation of snow
on his shoulders, finding the ground with each step
as if his feet were remembering
a poem he’d learned by heart
seventy years ago, as if he were practicing
walking across the surface
of an imagined sea.
In celebration of the publication of Riddle Fishhook Thorn Key, Airlie Press has commissioned a limited-edition postcard of one of Kelly Terwilliger’s poems.