I can tell you almost exactly where I was around 2 a.m. most nights in January 1988 – doing the graveyard shift for the feeding of our second, youngest and last child, Andrew.
I held the baby on one arm, my right arm cradled around him with his bottle, while in my left hand was The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. The book was required reading for a course I was taking for masters program. I will forever associate The Deerslayer with baby bottles.
The book is one of the five “Leatherstocking Tales” written by Cooper, with The Last of the Mohicans being perhaps slightly better well known, thanks to the 1992 Daniel Day Lewis movie. Cooper set his novels in central New York State, and today the region is known as “Leatherstocking Country.”
Bowman, an associate professor of English at Taylor University in Indiana, has assembled 43 poems of geography and memory, some reaching into his childhood and the people who shaped his life and others examining the seasons, poets, music and baseball (Cooperstown and its Baseball Hall of Fame are in Leatherstocking Country).
The poems are accessible and immediate, originating in or influenced by particular place, but nonetheless familiar and engaging. They remind us that our own hometowns and regions continue to exert a powerful pull, even if left long ago for other places. These are the places that shape us, both because we were once part of a specific geography and a specific family.
And these places can exert powerful influences upon our own children, even if they’ve never lived there. Here is Bowman’s “April Poem:”
Every year about this time
I bury my mother’s bones.
And in May
they spring up as lilacs
and in June they float softly
on the Irondequoit Creek
and in July they march down
and end with smoke.
In August they become
Poison Ivy creeping
along the trail where I walk
with my daughter.
Soon they’ll be hidden
under dead leaves and snow.
The thaw will have its say
again next year
and I’ll reach for the shovel,
happy for moonlight
and a grasshopper’s song.
The poem speaks to many things – memory, family, the influences on succeeding generations, the circularity of daily life within the seasons. The flowers, springing from “my mother’s bones, ” return each year. The idea of a natural order, outside but shaping human existence, permeates the words and phrases.
Bowman’s poems have appeared in several books, including Tania Runyan’s How to Read a Poem, published by T.S. Poetry Press. He’s also written a novel, Beggars in Heaven.
A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country is a beautiful collection, poems of quiet, reflection, and memory. The poems remind of the richness of the places we come from.
Related: The trailer for A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country:
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