Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
Poet Jack Wiler has been a part of the Dodge poetry community for over twenty years. He read at the 1988, 1996 and 2006 Poetry Festivals, and throughout those years worked with New Jersey teachers and high school students in our Poetry-in-the-Schools Program. All of us at Dodge are deeply saddened by the news of his passing.
Jack’s was a singular and unmistakable voice. His poems were fueled by a quest to understand what it meant to be a human being living in America in these particular times, by bewilderment at our capacity to wound ourselves and others, by an urgency that we embrace the possibilities of life while they are available to us, and by impatience that we so often fail to do so.
To hear Jack read his poems meant to laugh until you ached. His poems often startled and provoked even as they made us laugh because he refused to turn a blind eye to his own or others’ weaknesses.
“Chucklehead” was his favorite term of endearment for himself or anyone who’d blundered, and he treasured us and our blunders, mixed beratement with benediction, in poem after poem. And his poems will continue to berate and bless us.
Love Poem at the Beginning of Summer
by Jack Wiler
This is a love poem about empty places.
About blank walls.
About light in the night and noises on the street.
This is a love poem where no one is there.
This is a love poem for you.
This is your house.
This is the light you make.
The soft light of a summer night.
The noises from the bar down the block.
The girls screaming at their lovers.
Your clothes spread across the bed.
You spread across the bed.
The sun in the afternoon. Too hot sometimes to bear.
The smell of your skin.
You mixed carrots and soda for tanning cream.
That taste is this poem.
This is a poem without you in it.
Like every love poem should be.
A poem with an empty heart.
A poem with a smell you can’t quite name.
I say, you smell almost like cotton candy.
You show me your perfume and it’s cotton candy.
I say you smell like my life.
You show me getting up and going to work and coming home tired.
I say, I love you and you say, I love you
and we could say that over and over and over.
But what I know is the spray of tanning oil on the deck.
The spilled Corona.
The taste of your breath, thick with beer and tobacco.
This is a poem with no one in the house but me and two dogs.
This is a poem with the deep sighs of my dogs.
The breeze from a summer night.
The wail of a siren.
The music from my neighbor’s radio.
Soft mountain music.
Music about places and islands I’ve never seen.
Your hair is scattered on the sink.
Clothes are tossed on the bed.
The dogs are snoring.
The girls and boys from the bar are yelling.
It’s a loud poem.
It’s a poem that won’t let me forget.
So I wander out and look at the pale Hudson County sky.
I can’t see a single star.
The moon is hazy with neglect.
The dryer is turning and turning.
The dogs are tossing.
Everything in the world is asking about you.
Jack Wiler’s most recent collection is Fun Being Me. The photograph above of Jack at the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival was taken by his friend Mark Hillringhouse.