Today's Burlington paper announced the June 13 death of poet and St. Michael's College professor John Engels. Genial and inquisitive, he nurtured many interests, from photography to music to fly fishing and tying; his book Walking to Cootehill was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Engels's first collection, The Homer Mitchell Place, was published by University of Pittsburgh Press in 1958; his final, eleventh, collection is Recounting the Seasons. My own favorite is Sinking Creek (his tenth), which braids grief, aging, loss, and the possibility of redemption into taut strands of narrative verse that wick the very blood of the hills and rivers. Fearless in his exposure of his own doubts and regrets, he nonetheless transformed them into strength and a lyrical voice. Here's a sample that meets the season:
Eve Overlooking the Garden
The garden has ignited.
It’s feverish. Even the white clematis
flutters with sun,
and the red lilies and coral bells
burn back at it. Windblown petals
of cardinals flash
across the buttery primroses:
a good year for gardens.
I write this standing at my window.
I don’t go down into the garden.
From here I see everything
at once, all the flowers trapped
in color, in their showy, slow
ignition — petal, pistil, leaf and stamen
separating off. Perhaps
there is a way
out of such fiery
gorgeousness. It must
be wearing. Even at night
when I’ve gone blind
I hear a splendid confusion
of harmonics, what only can be
the sharp yellowing
of gloriosas, the speckle-
of the Canada lilies.
— John Engels
From Recounting the Seasons:
Poems, 1958-2005, University of Notre Dame Press
The memorial service for Engels will be next month: Saturday July 14, at 2 p.m., on the college campus.