of living fall around the lives
once lived, leave a hole in the
pumice. The emptiness fills with words –
narrative and song. That is why I write
with rain drops on your windows
as the train speeds by the valleys
indifferently. That is why the ghosts
do not speak to me or to you.
That is why no one noticed
as I left the train again.
except from Return from Pompeii in Nothing Remembers, Michael Dickel
In his latest collection, Nothing Remembers (Finishing Line Press, August 2019), American-Israeli poet, writer, songwriter, photographer and artist (also husband, dad, teacher), Michael Dickel takes us with him on a wide exploration of our world in all our recollections and amnesias, a distant contemporary relative of A la recherché du temps (In Search of Lost Time/Proust). It is rather noble in its observations, I think, calling us to the domain of our questions and sacred imagination, exploring the place of memory, re-visioning, and of human activity and perception in the varied landscapes of our hearts and souls and this Earth.
I found Nothing Remembers to be in effect a guided meditation on the vista and meaning of history and culture, personal and communal pathways, and the possible/probable relevance of memory, poetry, and connection: humans and their experiences as part of nature, as geologic memory, as archives of history. Recommended without reservation.
The poems from Nothing Remembers are published here today with Michael’s permission.
JAMIE: In reading the poems in this collection, I felt strong sense of their rising out of the ancient soil of Israel and other geologies of heart and soul. Would you speak to this, to what we could perhaps say is the collection’s ontological roots?
MICHAEL: I suppose exploring metaphysical questions such as memory and death (or its perceptions and effects)—main themes of Nothing Remembers—invites a metaphysical question about how these poems came to be. The title poem in particular rises out of the geography of Israel, my mother’s death, and buried in the detailed description of place, the ruins of Tel Megiddo. Tel Meggido is better known by its ancient name of Armageddon, the site of a great ancient battle that inspired apocalyptic visions down to our time.
Nothing rememberswhere in our times we these rocks piled into buildingsthat fell down a thousand years ago dis(re)membered from waror earthquake raised and razed again into where nothingrecalls again the warm day anemones bloom hollyhockspoppies forget no one and another rain day another dry daypass hot and cold while an orvani drops blue feathers in flighta hawk sits calmly on a fencepost and flocks of egretstraipse toward the sea no cattle no grains all harvestedin this place we would call holy land nothing left to it but conflictwith the passing of her life that tried so hard to hang onto onemoment many moments missed so many more empty echoesa difficult way to say goodbye to a mother watching herevaporate like rain in the desert her mind dust that drieslips her droned words faded as warmth from a midnight rockmeaning what the layers of history these rocks un-piledreveal sepia photos a couple of tin-types dust schoolreports cards newspaper holes the shells of bugs raised and razedagain and again into our times where nothing remembers.
MICHAEL: That poem and this book as a whole, however, are more related to the archaeological term tel than to Armageddon. A tel is a place that has been built, razed, and then rebuilt on the ruins so many times that it makes a large layered mound—often a sizable hill with steep sides. Layered beneath the latest new construction, these ruins shape the base (the hill), but also the culture, legends, and of course the history of the newest “place.” In our times, many of the constructions at the top have also become historical ruins.
Memory is like this. Metaphorically, every pace has these deep layers. The human layers only make up a thin part of the geological layers. And perhaps memory has this depth too. So do our lives. And, in fact, so does death. All of these ideas have roots in geology, geography, culture, language. And from those roots, perhaps, grow (at least some of) these poems.
So from where specifically do the poems in Nothing Remembers get their being? Certainly in place, and the deep geology of place. Israel, where I’ve lived about a dozen years now, has amazing geology. Seabed thrown up to the sky. Basalt outcropping from volcanic action. The deep rift of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, the Mediterranean basin, deserts, mountains. The human layers, geography (and history) go back before modern Homo Sapiens, with Neolithic sites. Flint ridges and springs of the Jerusalem mountains border the Mediterranean basin and Judean Desert, and have attracted migrating human ancestors and humans for millennia.
In addition, many of the poems started in Italy, during my sojourn there for the 100 Thousand Poets for Change International Conference, Salerno, Italy 2015. Thus Pompeii makes an appearance or two, and while only named perhaps once, the streets of Salerno, as well as the rest of the Amalfi Coast. The layers are no less deep, and the histories of Italy and Israel intertwine back to the Roman era, at least.
JAMIE: It sounds as though place is important in your writing. Are you saying that you write about place?
MICHAEL: I don’t think so. Place definitely matters to me and often place—its resonances and dissonances in particular—thus inspires and informs my writing. But always place arrives for me necessarily through its human dimension of how it shapes human perceptions and understandings. Often, especially in the last section of the book that focuses more on mortality—funerals, mourning, and again, memory—place emphasizes both the fleetingness of life and the longevity of memory. Geology is a form of memory. The limestone and its fossils reminds us of long gone seas and creatures. Perhaps we will one day be fossils, too. We spring from geology and we return to it, in the end. Several cemeteries appear in the last section. Yet, I don’t think I’m writing about the places, especially the cemeteries. I’m writing about humanity. I think.
Ultimately, of course, the poems come into being in me, from how I experience and think in the world, and my contemplations, such as what I’ve just laid out about our human place in this vast geological tel called earth. But that’s a different sense of place—where do we belong in the world, not where are we in it. Maybe, how we belong in / to the world, and how the world belongs in / to us. Belong isn’t quite right, but I’m not sure what is better. Fit? How do we fit in the world, how does the world fit in us? Perhaps this is as much about displacement as place, the displacement of memory.
I am in the end, I would say, more interested in the vast networks of relationships and associations we make with others, with this world we live in, with geography and with geology than I am interested in place itself. What you call geologies of heart and soul, that’s my “place.”
How can I paint these multiple relationships in words and images? How can I echo them in sound and rhythm? Can I even know them? Probably, I can’t know, and I can’t rely on memory to tell me.
So, I resort to images. Poetry, for me, is most about images placed in context to each other in such a way as to shift our perceptions. Place, geography, geology, the tel—these are all images standing in for where I can’t articulate what I sense in the world.
JAMIE: What is the one key thing you would like readers to walk away with from this collection?
MICHAEL: I would like people to walk away with a sense of contact with the poems, a sense of more than the surface of the world, just beyond our understanding, waiting for us to notice it. Perhaps, they might have a sense of our shared humanity, and a sense of their own depths of connection and unique perception of the imagery in the poems. I hope people walk away with a curiosity and questions to which they would like to give consideration…on their own paths, in their own journeys.
JAMIE: When does Nothing Remembers come out? Where can readers purchase it?
Nothing Remembers is due in late August. I’ve heard from the publisher that the printer has been behind schedule with other books this spring, so I’ve been saying late summer. Right now readers can place advanced orders through Finishing Line Press .
JAMIE: What’s next on your literary journey/adventure?
MICHAEL: My life journey has taken me into the medical world with a diagnosis of and treatment for non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. (Treatment has proceeded well, and my prognosis is excellent.) I am now mostly writing from the experience of cancer and incorporating that into my poetry. I am writing memoir or journals (I think Audre Lorde possibly wrote the definitive Cancer Journal)—or not yet, anyway, I should say as I don’t know where the writing will take me.
The first published piece from this work, The Crab, in The BeZine, is flash fiction that, like much fiction, captures some emotional reality of (my) having cancer (the crab). I have sent some poems out for consideration. And a folder floating on my computer cloud has more work, not all of it finished. I expect this work will be a future collection when the body of work is there. The working title is Etz Chaim (Tree of Life). As always, I continue writing about social issues, the 100TPC and The BeZine themes of peace, sustainability, and social justice.
TeachersFor my childreniTeachers come to us again and againand we learn from them what we will.We give them in return only athin immortality. We hope for gentleness.We dream of our old teachers often.The bullies shout, “get the lead out”as every muscle concentrateson the knowledge that we cannot win this race.iiTeachers come to us again and againand we learn from them what we will.We give them in return only athin immortality. We hope for gentleness.The gentle ones quietly step away,letting go as we pedal furiously and discoverthat miraculously we have found balancewhile pushing forward to the next road.iiiWe sat at table eating phô, another lunchwhere you ask questions that I never thought.I try to catch these waves as they break toward shoreand wonder that you came to me last night in a dream.In our own teaching, we find our voicesraised all too often. Yet, somehow, I stepback as you light into a world I willnot know, unless you take me along.
MICHAEL DICKEL (Meta /Phor (e) /Play) has won international awards and been translated into several languages. His latest poetry collection, Nothing Remembers, will come out late summer 2019 from Finishing Line Press. A poetry chapbook, Breakfast at the End of Capitalism, came out in 2017 (free PDF ). His flash fiction collection, The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden, came out in 2016. Previous books include: War Surrounds Us, Midwest / Mid-East, and The World Behind It, Chaos…(archived free PDF ). He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36, was managing editor for arc-23 and 24, and is a past-chair of the Israel Association of Writers in English. He publishes and edits Meta/ Phor(e) /Play and is a contributing editor of The BeZine. He grew up in the US Midwest and now lives in Jerusalem, Israel.
Recent in digital publications:
* Four poems , I Am Not a Silent Poet
* Remembering Mom, HerStry
* Three poems, Levure littéraire
Upcoming in digital publications:
Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review
From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems)
A mostly bed-bound poet, writer, former columnist and former associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, (Meta /Phor (e) /Play, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers. I founded The Bardo Group/Beguines, a vitual literary community and publisher of The BeZine of which I am the founding and managing editor.
“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton
Save a copy of NOTHING REMEMBERS for me as soon as i get back to town (and out of “quarantine”)
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Perfect! I thank Jamie and Michael for the pleasure of reading this interview. “Just beyond our understanding, waiting for us to notice it.” Success of the book!
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Thank you, Bozhidar!
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