The Snowbound House by Shane Seely


Shane Seely turns the earth over and over to find "the rind of the world." Two boys discover a bullet, a couple fight "through a mouth of toothpaste," a father gives his son a rifle. These are poems of filial complexity, meditations on death's cruelty and kindness, poems of amplitude and depth which ask us to live fully in "the length of morning." -- Dorianne Laux (judge, 2008 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry)

The Snowbound House is a book of earth and death, a book of often-overlooked human gestures. These poems are rooted in the natural world and are full of acute and profound details. Shane Seely has written a deeply resonant book, both lyrically and emotionally. The Snowbound House is searing and tender -- it is a beautiful book. -- Malena Mörling

Shane Seely, in The Snowbound House, reminds us that to live is to be confronted daily with life's end, is to be death-haunted. These lapsed pastorals remind us that memory is, in its retrospective gaze, elegiac, burdened by grief.The Snowbound House is a remarkable first book startling in the precision of its knowing, in the adamant clarity of its verse. -- Eric Pankey

Two Boys in the Woods

find a rifle shell darkly gleaming in the leaves.
Breathy, they pocket it as though it were a curl
of a lover's hair.
For days they take turns keeping it,
sleeping with it standing upright on the nightstand
or tucked beneath a pillow, 
holding it to the light 
to study the brassy casing, the sleek nose of the bullet.
Each boy dreams
of the bullet's shrieking arc, 
how it tears at the air
as it flies. They carry it
to school, eat their meals with it cradled
in a palm.
Finally, in the darkness of a roadside field, 
one boy tapes a three-penny nail to the butt end of the shell, 
point against the primer, and grips the casing
with his father's pliers.
The other boy wields a ball-peen hammer.
The strike is clean.
When the shell explodes,
the pliers split at the hinge, and the hammer's poll shatters.
One boy's hand opens into the darkness, 
gloved in blood, 
while the boy with the broken hammer
discovers he's alive.


Hollow Bones

In the weed beds, carp lean
into the air, come plashing
back against the glassy water.
Two gar drift delicate as flutes
in shallows warmed all day by sun. From
across the bay a heron
wings its hollow bones toward shore
and sets down croaking for the night. 
I am heartened
by the indifference of this place to me, 
as though I were the swarm of gnats
above the bed of lily pads, spinning the air to wool.
All day the sun has burned my neck
with no particular desire, and now the moon
rises with its bucket full,
just as it would if I were dead, or president, or
somewhere else. A Red-winged Blackbird
flutters from the rushes,
picks an insect from the air.
I am no more than I am.


The Lesson

I was young when my father called me to the back door
to show me the brain of the white-tailed deer

he had shot and had been flaying
in the garage. He had hacksawed off

the skull's cap to save the antlers, which he would nail,
once the little flap of hide had peeled away,

beside the others on the wall. The brain
was smallish, wrinkled, gelatin; it oozed

into the board he'd laid it on. He touched it lightly
with his hunting knife, and caused a little slit

to open around the knife's tip. I wondered
if anything remained: the detailed sketches

of each rise and crevice of the hills; the language
of scent and gesture; the image of my father

as he raised his gun and fired. We stood
in silence, the mute brain congealing between us,

my father holding it toward me as if to say,
Look, son, this is the world.

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