The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College mourns the passing of poet Paul Otremba who joined the program’s faculty in 2017. Author of three books, Currency (Four Way, 2009), Pax Americana (Four Way, 2015) and the forthcoming Levee (Four Way, 2019), he received a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference fellowship, a Barthelme Memorial Fellowship, a Krakow Poetry Seminar Fellowship, and a prize from the Academy of American Poets. Paul’s unassuming brilliance as a poet and teacher, his steady warmth and kindness, and his generous spirit will long be remembered by his colleagues and students here.
It’s the space between them we can count on,
more constant than the light we claim
our fortunes by, and because we’ve proved
this janky wooden plank in the argument
we can proceed another premise, one body’s-length
farther along the surface. You could bet
your hemlock on it, or the next timid step
across the fogged-up mirror of the iced-over lake.
The state is ill; therefore, I am ill.
Hippocrates thought of the crab
because of its legs reaching out like tendrils,
like gossip’s sideways whispering
through the crowd of swollen flesh.
Then leaving my surgeon’s office
I had to step over the splayed fingers
of a spidering slick of oil in the parking lot,
which I tried to read like the lines in my palm.
My dreams, too, have become nebulous,
intense, and frequent, and just after waking
they take on the blankness of the bayou’s face
when the stars black out behind clouds.
It’s like a joke from some low-grade
and obvious comedy—how do you not get
out of the way of an oncoming steamroller?
I am learning the difference between urgency
and importance. Although, they often meet
at the more accusatory places. To the monarch
butterfly breaking loose of her chrysalis,
the twitter of the state is urgent.
The icy-blue eye of the flipped-over iceberg
has been here long enough to know what’s important.
I place my hand against the window
and I’m met by the dark’s aged coolness.
The light passing through me in many strands
from the cluster of bees set in the night sky
happened so fast and so many years ago,
there wasn’t even a thought of me being born.
(from Levee; Four Way Books, 2019)