Wish Meal charts one man’s evolution from El Dorado pilgrim and prodigal son to a stay-at-home father, navigating from his Indiana boyhood to the family he makes in the Pacific Northwest. In Whitsel’s poems, we encounter places, rites, decades and nights of perishable abundance. He nurtures apple trees, secrets, prize tomatoes, fascinations and bewildering kids. He navigates between the burden of an heirloom faith and the transcendence of Oregon rivers and skies. The Wish of belonging becomes Whitsel’s grist, his Meal, subject to blemish and ferment.
Cover design: Beth Ford
Publication date: October 1, 2016
Tim Whitsel lives on a 100-year floodplain outside Springfield, Oregon. He is passionate about western rivers, gardening, jazz, bicycling, wine and words. For six years Tim directed Windfall, a monthly reading series at the Eugene Public Library. He won first prize at the 2013 Northwest Poets’ Concord. In 2014, he was honored with an artist’s residency at PLAYA. He can be heard reading his poems on the poetryloft.net or seen on YouTube (Lane Writers Reading Series, October 25, 2015). Tim’s first collection, We Say Ourselves, was published in 2012 by Traprock Books.
Praise for Wish Meal
Tim Whitsel’s poetry is rife with the pleasing desperation of the blues’ stance: I’m so far down I might never get back up. But by bein’ down, if you’ll get on down here with me, baby, we just might find us a way through. These poems ride out moments of bare survival, of hopefulness and beauty, and of complete brokenness with equally keen attention and articulation, often creating solace through an acuity of perception to events that would otherwise be without solace. I couldn’t put Wish Meal down.
— David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K
Tim Whitsel navigates huge swaths of geography and time in search of home. This pilgrimage of the self makes for a bold poetic space where anything might strike. And strike it does. With introspection, longing, and lyric invention, Wish Meal takes us to the headwaters of the poet’s deepest concerns. The gifts in this book run deep.
— Michael McGriff, author of Home Burial, Dismantling the Hills
Wish Meal is beautiful, and I read it just now in one sitting and find much grace, lyric, and firm land-- things honest, and real. These are poems of skateboards and youth, retrospection and longing, acute observation, and most of all, music. Nature, loss, longing, and none of the feckless musing of the young poets I often encounter, trying to spin the small into false significance and eloquence. There is no strain, just an assuredness, free of pandering, that here in the world is mystery and greatness.
— Mike Copperman, author of Teacher: Two Years in the Mississippi Delta
KBOO's The Talking Earth with A. Molotkov and Tim Whitsel (radio reading/interview)
Excerpts from Wish Meal
Slush tightens, the afternoon
gathers darkness like an Amish mother
spooling her skirt.
More snow expected.
No school tomorrow, money free
for the shoveling. Torsos of beech; ash-colored tracks
dimple the expansive down.
Cows huddle, snort inside a broad barn
where sons and a nephew
scoop grain steaming from bins.
A sleet begins ticking against the husk of hardened
snow and from behind
the white two-story, smaller kids exit
powdery burrows like black larvae.
A man curries and brushes his Belgians.
All this luster empties
with the night, dilates, a pupil in some skull
NAGOYA, April 1947
from a photograph of my father
You resist tears
as cherry blossoms carpet stone
walkways with loss
the hues of akebono, shirofugen,
kwanzan trees. You imagine pale kimonos
incandescing in cedar wardrobes.
Six thousand tons of incendiary
bombs crushed aircraft factories, docks;
You observe gaunt widows relieved,
overcome in surrender.
You have seen so many bodies.
I see your farm boy hands cupped
as starving arborists
salvage form from these living remnants
of imperial splendor. I do not see you
holding fertile flowers but
these ravaged silks of spring.
Your hands listen as if they might hear.
ON THE DAY YOU ARE DYING
for Marian Lucille Whitsel
On the day you are dying I check weather
reports, put a fresh tube in my bicycle tire. I close
the page on the stock market, play toss
and fetch with a black Lab for better than an hour.
All afternoon the sun licks the neighbors’
lawns as patiently as an old cat.
Sap in the cherry trees rises from a murmur
to a steady chug. Bumblebees waft to crocus
from Chinese witch-hazel and flowering plum.
I rummage through an old poem, wash
a new pan; crush garlic, mince onion,
chop cilantro with an orange habanero—
mash the guacamole for supper.
On the day you work bravely at dying I cry
for the years of gardens my father raised.
I rub my often-sore elbow for all your pains.
You are getting in your gossamer slippers,
I am sobbing a little in the West.
I promise I’ll write the IRS to explain; promise
to wash the car. I bow to daffodils for their
stabbing audacity in grim weeks of winter.
I remember your long bus ride
to watch me graduate. On the dying day, this day
I think about your cap and gown.
Behind a granite outcropping fringed with spruce
the train ran steadily out of sight.
Wrist for impossibly long days.
A bracelet of damaged beads, showcased in glare.
I knelt and lay my cheek against the track
while it hummed, praising the contoured fields
of sappy winter wheat,
those lilacs and mock orange the freight
The linked saga scribbled tiny toward the far ridge.
I made my chest
a scrapbook for the stranded pickups and washing
machines, for the jacked convertibles
that sacrificed spinner wheels for Pampers, birthday parties
and heating oil. I yielded
to tarpapered back porches and the exposed
waferboard of unfinished rooms.
I pledged my afternoons to a drift
of perfume from centenary cottonwoods.
I trudged under a hymn of loose sky.
The horizon rallied gravestones under gauze.
In celebration of the publication of Wish Meal, Airlie Press has commissioned a limited-edition letterpress broadside of one of Tim Whitsel’s poems. Signed and numbered by the author.