I’ve yet (and probably never will), write a book about my hometown; not the place of my birth, but where I spent my formative years, or those places which have had the greatest influence on me. Very few poets can do without opening the floodgates to melancholia, anger, and disappointment. These feelings are as much a part of ourselves as the earth we occupy, and we, as human beings, prefer to stay in control. Walter Ruhlmann’s newest collection Crossing Puddles (© 2015 Robocup Press), is a wonderful and highly pleasurable example of a poet who’s not afraid to explore this complicated transformation through a poetic medium.
Ruhlmann, an English teacher and publisher of mgv2, gives the reader an intense, parabolic travelogue with Crossing Puddles that begins in Normandy, then moves to Bresse (a region of eastern France that butts up against the Alps), and then into the asymmetrically precise and vast landscape of Ruhlmann’s consciousness. There’s loving (and not so loving), reminiscences in the first section titled “Normandy”, where Ruhlmann adroitly leads the reader through the labyrinth of his childhood and family memories. Nature darkly and deliciously haunts the early years of Ruhlmann’s incarnation on this earth, as in the poem “Another Bleak House”:
The orchard behind the house was even gloomier. Apple trees, pear trees,
quince trees, plum trees, thick grass and rhubarb, dahlias, daffodils,
gladiola, irises, and lilies. Peonies and chrysanthemums.
The fog often filled the garden, anti-Eden, anti-chamber of a past mixed
with industry, agriculture and trade. Trade mostly. Dirty money, stolen
goods, black market income, an inherited greed.
In the second section “Bresse,” Ruhlmann takes the reader through a series of defining crystallized moments, both quotidian (“Meat”), and sexual (“Jerking in the Bus”). This kind of subject matter is always in danger of becoming pedantic, and is anything but in the skillful hands of Ruhlmann’s poetry. Again, nature plays a predominant role in Ruhlmann’s work, and here, we glimpse a more robust and intriguing portrait of Ruhlmann the man, who, while reminiscing over an unforgettable and disturbing experience, finds his peace and pleasure in honest hard work, as in the poem, “The Crusty Dark”:
In the shed showing its inside
I can see two saws -
a spotting that brings new thoughts:
soon these dry twigs and arms and boughs
will be cut off, dismantled, dismembered.
More wood to burn the fire next winter.
More blood will flood and whirl in my heart.
Winter has already started in Maore,
the island where I left my pride, my joy, and pieces of my mental health.
I hate to say this but bats are mad.
Other flying mammals - flying foxes - flowed high above,
wider, fluffy, somehow less disturbing than these fat dragonflies
who circle, twirl, swirl and whirl
chasing mosquitos, flies and gnats.
My late cat used to catch them from the balcony where I used to live.
I love to say this:
I love my worker’s hands
they dig soil and scratch and tear and plough.
Dark fingernails, large red scratches, abrasive palms.
The soreness cannot erase the pleasure throughout the day.
The last section, “Remote Places of the Mind,” reveals the open-ended resolution of where Ruhlmann’s traveled, along with the reader, into this present moment. Questions that were never answered regarding family (“Late Epiphanies”), love (“The Blue Tit’), and the identity (“Genesis Revisited,”), come to the fore in a disturbing and wonderful sequence of abstract poems. Who has Ruhlmann become? Or, more accurately, who is he becoming, as in the poem “I Wish It Would Snow for Christmas (Another Acrostic Poem from a Deranged Soul)”:
Sometimes life is so bitching you wonder why existence matters so much.
No trees, no garlands, no stupid baubles hung anywhere.
Other lands, dreamed and fancied, could give shelter to that deranged soul
Why haven’t they sent me tickets to take that ghost train to hell?
Fallacy, false images, fake and fancy dressing for the forlorn.
Omens crash on that wrecked brain of mine,
restless, neurosis and neurasthenia, neuralgia won’t leave me in peace, just
bits and pieces that
clatter and eventually shatter.
Hummus will remain after the fall.
sick and sulfuric ashes blown away by the wind from the snowy eastern
As an artist of any stripe, it remains a constant duty to one’s vocation to keep questioning, researching, and refining one’s identity. Ruhlmann’s Crossing Puddles pays homage to this courageous and ongoing process.
Crossing Puddles, Walter Ruhlmann, © 2015 Robocup Press, 73 pages, ISBN 978-1-32-098137-8, $11.99
poetry content © 2015 Walter Ruhlmannarticle content © 2015 marie lecrivain