Walter Butts

New Hampshire Poet Laureate

W.E Butts, the 2009-2014 New Hampshire Poet Laureate, is the author of nine poetry collections, including Radio Time (forthcoming from Cherry Grove Collections), Sunday Evening at the Stardust Café, winner of the 2006 Iowa Source Poetry Book Prize, and the chapbooks Sunday Factory (Finishing Line Press, 2006) and What to Say if the Birds Ask (Pudding House, 2007).  The recipient of two Pushcart Prize nominations and a Massachusetts Artists Foundation Award, he teaches in the low-residency BFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College.

Photo by Robert Bussey


We were happy those afternoons,
with our boxes of Dots,
watered-down sodas, and bags
spilling over with popcorn,
even as the sudden dark
and slow slide of curtains
silenced our laughter
and screams, while we waited
for a Saturday matinee serial to begin:

Black Arrow and Captain Marvel,
Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon,
The Green Hornet and Dick Tracy,
Red Ryder
and The Lone Ranger,
or any one of a dozen others
our saved quarters let us follow
for twenty minutes each week
into new episodes of heroes, villains,
kidnappings and impossible escapes,
and always a beautiful woman
who had to be rescued.

But sometimes it was hard to figure
who the criminal mastermind really was.
And despite how many times we saw
a chapter end with the hero
trapped and certainly doomed,
we argued his fate until we returned
to be captured again
by those metaphors of good and evil
that rose up like truth, like faith,
before our cheers and applause,
our eternal and communal praise.


Early Saturday afternoon, in winter,
Mother and I are walking
down Elm to the gray and white house
of the Stevens sisters, who were so frail,
I remember, the dust-swirled light
passed through them. “Be careful,”
Mother warned when, in the curiosity
of a four-year-old boy, I picked up
the Boston terrier from the mantel
and turned that tiny figurine
slowly over in my palm. It was then
one of the sisters reached for the collie
and beagle, and when she placed them
on the lace doily draped over the rolled arm
of the button-tufted high back chair,
I saw how the inside of her wrist
had become a small, colorless leaf.

I sat down and soon they were
gathered by me: the Austrian shepherd
and chocolate Siamese, the bulldog
and English setter. And a golden palomino
stood near a grazing brown foal,
while a barn owl, a blue bird,
and a white-throated sparrow
quietly rested. Even the turtle dove
and humming bird were there, and then
I was raising the birds above my head,
and I sang for them too. And I barked
for the dogs and whinnied for the horses,
and the room filled with flight and the new
sounds I had made for them all,
as those three women watched over me.

Later, while they chatted over tea
and I drank hot cocoa from a thin china cup
painted with tiny roses, snow fell
endlessly outside the frosted window,
and I had held those many things
which I knew now would not break.


Friends gather in their groups of memory
and celebrate the bodiless click and song
of a darkened wood, the restored house
with its three windows edged by blue,
red and crystalline squares of stained glass,
the raised arms of a luminescent green Buddha,
think also of those lost years, a woman
in a predawn acid high running in rain
through the city’s cobblestone streets, her long cape
flapping like the wings of some flightless bird,
moonlight and a barroom’s neon glare
across the hood of a white ’55 Ford in summer,
a 1930s Buck Roger’s poster and a question:
“Is this man really 2,000 years ahead of his time?”
and that Z.Z. Hill lyric: “Woo Wee Bop!
Baby I’d chop / off my right arm for your love.”
Now children of the father who last week became ash
sit together in their loud silence, the widow
quietly folds her hands, someone delivers trays of food
and places them on tables draped in white cloth,
then it’s my turn to speak. I know nothing of death,
but I remember once, having been called
by the quick signatures of lightning bugs,
his small daughter brought me to an open field,
where she discovered her name among a constellation of stars.

Copyright © 2010 Walter Butts