All That is Not Given is Lost – Greg Kuzma

All That is Not Given is Lost

all-that-is-not-givenAuthor: Greg Kuzma
Format: Paperback, 148 pages
ISBN: 0978578279
Published: June 2007

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Publisher’s Note on All That is Not Given is Lost

Part threnody of a wren, part daybook, part travelogue, part paean to energy, but all poem, the lines of this collection reel out, a manic strand of DNA from an ancient fly-casting rod, bent on catching a new kind of animal in the deeps of Kuzma’s soul. Part Memory of Times Past, part Seven Storey Mountain, part Dark Night of the Soul, part Trout Fishing in America, part Song of Myself, the poems in this collection could only have been written by one poet—Greg Kuzma.

One reads these long-limbed poems like a sparrow starting out in the branches of the tallest fir trees of the Adirondacks, hopping down limb by line to the wisdom grains and seed trove on the ground, spying all along the branches treasures magical as Christmas. Like branches of the great trees in the forests of Kuzma’s youth, each poem’s lines interlock with the next so that before long, if it were not for the sure and steady hand of your poet guide, you would begin to feel lost as you stumble somehow into the land of the Brothers Grimm—where a spectral father issues commands from the dark oily space below an engine; creamily glowing coins tempt a little boy into criminal acts; and the Beauty the hero has married coaxes the pale quivering child out of the Beast, who turns out to be the poet’s uncle.

Greg Kuzma lives in the synapse between experience and emotion, in the clench of the teeth before thought, in the ragged and raging moments we each are blessed enough to call our own but few have the courage to call out into the light, and in the thought that traces them into these majestic lines. Rare is the work of art that inspires one to reflect, I wish I could live my life differently. I wish I could burn to live like this poet. I wish I could be half so alive. The book that shimmers in your hands is one of those.

A Poem from Greg Kuzma’s All That is Not Given is Lost

The Arrangement

We had to do it only this way.
Somehow it came to pass, somehow
I was in the room, where
the crib in the corner sat. This is
my one strong memory of him
as a child. And it was Friday
night, or Saturday. I had this
infatuation, for Pepsi or Coke
and Wise potato chips in a
bowl, which carried still, even
at 9:30, the smell of onions and
the smell of vinegar. Why did I
not object? I didn’t. Nobody did.
We were like zombies, or robots,
like the robot on TV I watched on a
Saturday morning that kept coming
on, and could not be called back,
the hero pressed against the bars.
It was the fifties, 1954 or -55.
Out in the back drive we had
Dad’s green ’49 Chevy, with
the visor and the wide whitewalls
Dad scrubbed every week to make
them shine. The arrangement was
simple. We would both go to bed
at the same time, I remember the
hall light being turned off,
and then I would begin my vigil.
Lying there in the dark, my brother
in his crib, lying there, not
speaking— Did he even know how
to speak— lying there, calming
my breathing so I might hear
over the sound of it the sound
of his. I could not go down-
stairs until he was asleep— could
not watch TV with Mom and Dad
until Jeff was out for the night.
And every second waiting in the
dark I was missing something—
my heart pounded in nervousness.
My favorite shows were Paladin
and Gunsmoke. I think Paladin
was on first. I remember the
loud drum beat or sudden crash
of music when he presented
his card— “Wire Paladin—
San Francisco”— I think it said,
and wondered if his first name
was Wire. Did we ever hear his
name? He had an imperious
air. A cultivated style. Among
the gangsters of the cowboy
towns he seemed the only gentleman,
the only one who had been to school,
and could quote famous authors,
as I was learning to do, and
was kindly toward women when all
the bad guys grabbed them and
carried them off screaming. He
had a black horse, I think, and
was dressed all in black, with a
hard black hat with a cord under
his chin. Did he wear it back
on his shoulders some time?—
I cannot remember, and carried
a tiny derringer which always
saved the day. I think I got
a capgun model of it— did
we sell it at my Dad’s
auction last summer?— was that
what it was— and why it looked
familiar?— and he always won.
To draw on the bad guys, no
matter how many, and shoot them
all, while drums pounded,
announcing the finality of it all,
and how it was right, as if the
heavens themselves thundered,
then say good-bye to the
innocent and true school teacher,
and the fresh-faced kid I
knew I was like, in a town
that did not exist. He was
always leaving at the end of
the show, to get back and be
ready for the next grand foray,
the next episode, in a West
that never existed. Spouting
poetry, on a set that always
looked the same but different
too, how I never tired of his
eloquence. And sat there in
the dark with my eloquent father,
eating greasy and salty chips,
staring at the screen. We never
argued with the show, never
disagreed with the outcome.
Never wasted a bit of sympathy
on anybody shot. If you were
shot you were out, one bullet
off in your direction and you
sprawled off your horse and went
down in the dust. There was no
blood. Nobody was ever grievously
wounded or twitching. The dead
died quick and went numb,
like putting nails into boards
in my father’s shop, a neatness,
a completion, without remorse,
without error. Paladin never
shot the wrong man, or overreacted,
or failed to see the extent of
the problem. Whatever needed to
be done, he was there, a great
abundance of intelligence and
justice. Upstairs, in the dark
of my brother’s room, it was not
so easy. We lay there together
like two men playing dead,
trying to outsmart the other.
Hoping the upstairs clock would
move fast, and he— with nothing
in his head— he was only two
or three— would fade out quickly,
while I with my wild plan,
could lie there half the night
holding my breath. And then,
gently, as if almost in time
with my breathing, I would draw
back the covers and slip out.
I would stand by the bed, afraid
he had heard me, then tiptoe
out the door and down the hall.
Emboldened if he did not call,
I would pick up the pace,
to meet the stair tops and their
treachery. Each step on the
way down bore unseen terrors.
Each one was loose and creaked,
but you could walk on them
if you could land just right,
or if releasing a creak, stand
there a minute or two, to
represent the natural settling
of the house, night sounds we
all gloss over. Did I ever
make it down without Jeff calling?
Hearing the TV sounds, so busy
in the living room, though there
was only Mom and Dad, it seemed
a wondrous party was taking place.
Poised as I was between two
worlds, drawn on by the promise
of gunplay and music, while also
asleep in the room with my
brother, blending my breathing
with his. Trying to imagine
what I would do if he called out,
how I would make my way back, what
I would say. My usual story
was something like I had to go
to the bathroom, and I would make
a great to do of rattling
doorknobs, peeing and flushing
loudly, so that he might be
reassured. Then, to return to my
bed, to begin over. On nights
when I was almost down, sometimes
I’d hear the music of my shows,
and know they were on, would
stand there in exquisite pain,
feeling them slip away, their
whole vast logic and mission,
which I was now missing. And
would have to do without them
for another week. A whole long
week to be gotten through—
and was it possible?— before
I’d have another chance.
Sometimes I made it all the
way down, and would be welcomed,
like some hero for my exploits,
hogging the chips in the salad
bowl, hearing the fizz of my
Pepsi poured over the ice, and pull
my feet in slipper socks or
feet pajamas up with me
together on the couch, before
Jeff would appear in his sleeper
with feet, rubbing his eyes.
What a wonderful blend of emotions
that was— surprise, and joy
to see the sleeping son, emergent
from the dark— I see him grabbed
by my father and hugged to him,
embarrassment mixed in, to be
so caught, with me among the
adults, and would have to go
back with the tips of my fingers
greasy, back to that ruse again,
that long struggle. I don’t
remember it well, cannot remember
how the process changed, how
the terms evolved. He had only
to catch me once, downstairs,
in the living room, to puncture
the myth, and so would lie there
coiled and cocked all night
like the hammer of a gun, waiting
for me to make my move. And so
it came to pass that Father
installed a lid on Jeff’s crib.
How then he could not get out,
even though he knew, and
to lie there half the night
and kick the lid with all his might.
I don’t remember it, and I am
ashamed to talk of it, but it
was the fifties, and we were
without help. No Wire Paladin
or Matt Dillon came to our rescue.
Our nights were just as dark,
our problems just as tough
to solve. My father cut the board,
a big piece of paneling, which
slipped inside the crib, with leather
strips put through holes he drilled.
to tie to the slatted sides.
Maybe he even installed grommets
to keep the rawhide from breaking
through. How long it took to
bring us to this point I never
knew. Or whether I ever pretended
again. I think I did— to lie
down with Jeff in his room—
and how he would go to sleep,
and then arising to sneak out.
Did it ever matter that he
might suppose I was still there?
Or did I just gather myself up
and walk out, maybe even telling
him “Good luck.” And then the
kicking would start. He would
lie on his back and kick the lid.
His feet could just reach the
panel if he stretched. I never
saw him do it. Presumably he
kicked and cried, until, cried out,
exhausted, he fell asleep.
Maybe Father or Mother would go
up later and remove the lid,
brush his wet hair from his face.
It was just this week I thought
of this. It came to me suddenly
driving to school. I don’t know
why. Jeff died. At twenty-five.
It’s fifteen years now since
his death. He lies on his back
in a cemetery a few miles from
our house. If he cries out,
no one can hear. Our father
lies beside him in the dark.

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