William Orem's first collection, Our Purpose in Speaking,
State University Press.
category of poetry and was named 2020 Book of the Year.
It was formerly short-listed for the Kathryn A. Morton Prize, the Tampa
Review Prize, the Dorset Prize, Atlanta Review's International Poetry
Prize, the Crab Orchard Review Prize, and thrice for the Pablo Neruda
Prize (in selection).
The lovely-voiced Jenny Kander reads a selection of William Orem's poems
on the public radio broadcast The Poets Weave.
WOOD, SHELL, STAR (first published in Rock & Sling)
Bay water groans against the failing dock,
an evening tide belaboring the wood.
This year the wet joints hold. Some god,
you say, fixed up these marshes with dark hands
and I can see them: palms lapped over endlessly by shells,
fingernails arc-bright like falling stars.
Though science tells us we are stuff of distant stars
our lives seem so much closer to this weathered dock --
each day endures its splintering of shells,
each year, the mark of added seasons on the wood.
Ocean water like insistent hands
is creeping into what was sealed by God
depositing its salt. My love, if I were God
I wouldn't stray so far beyond the stars
when human chores need simple human hands.
We make our Christ a carpenter. This dock,
that soul-strung tree -- both sacred wood,
both of us bound, like oysters to their shells.
You say: Come hear the sea within the shell,
its presence like a whisper in the house of God.
Across the shoals, the evening wood
begins its slow lament; whippoorwills wake under stars.
Night forms around this ancient dock,
a mercy to its creviced hide, ragged like my hands,
which gently now you take within your softer hands.
Between us you create a place, a curl of shell.
Something timeless, like the dock,
a hidden space, dark as God,
a gift come to us from nowhere, like the stars,
simply there between us, stretched out on this wood.