Steve McDonald’s poems are always a joy for me to read. He writes about ordinary people — and the everyday things and natural world around them — with open-hearted empathy. His writing is well-crafted, lyrical and, as I said before, a pleasure for the reader.
Steve's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Nimrod, RATTLE, The Crab Creek Review, The Paterson Literary Review, Spillway, Blue Unicorn, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and The Cresset. His work has appeared in Best New Poets 2010. Steve is Professor Emeritus of English and former Dean of Languages and Literature at Palomar College in San Marcos, California.
Of his first book, Where There Was No Pattern (Finishing Line Press), poet Maurya Simon said it “brims with life…McDonald is a poet graced with a deft imagination, a poignant sense of mortality, and true insight into human pathos.”
What I enjoy in Steve’s poems is his humility and humanity, and how he’s able to transform these into avenues for grace. For example, he’s a regular guy who has to mow his own lawn — but, as a poet, finds a way to uplift the chore into moments of spiritual insight (from a poem in his first book).
His new book, House of Mirrors (Tebot Bach) is now available and already has garnered kudos from other writers. Judith Pacht, author of Summer Hunger, praises Steve McDonald’s way of “[making] the ordinary extraordinary as he examines nature and ourselves in unflinching detail. In House of Mirrors, we move from the wonder of a spider and its intricate web to the machinations of the human heart…These are elegant poems — moving and redemptive.” Dorianne Laux, author of The Book of Men, lauds Steve’s new book’s “attention to language and empathy for its subject matter, the human in all their many guises.” Ellen Bass and Joseph Millar, distinguished poets, concur and add more praise.
Steve is a superb craftsman. He has an excellent sense of when and how to use poetic techniques to enrich and expand his poems. I especially like, in “Rain” from his new book, House of Mirrors, how he furthers a reader’s sense of the rural landscape (besides using “fields” and “wet soil, bladed tillers and chisel plows” — what you’d expect in the country) by including farming images as part of his description of an elementary school: “the corn-silk yellow of caution lights,/ a crop of children,/…parents hovering like harvest moons.”
For information about his new book and to order a signed copy, click here
Here are three of Steve's poems.
by Steve McDonald
No sidewalk, just the garbled lyrics
of a muddy path, just rain humming
I will wash the brown earth,
and a mother, perhaps twenty-five,
and a son, perhaps seven.
She is holding his hand, urging him
past fields darkening into thunder,
anchored in folds of wet
soil, bladed tillers and chisel plows
crammed into long low sheds.
In the distance
the corn-silk yellow of caution lights,
a crop of children,
an elementary school,
parents hovering like harvest moons.
It rains harder.
Hoods up, heads down,
mother and son
dodge sink-holes of mud-
filled puddles. A roadside flower stand
gathers its bouquets—carnation and daisy,
rose and mum—buttons its coat.
from rusty gutters.
Mother and son pass
bicycles tangled like razor wire,
a broken fence, a grocery—migrants
huddled against the weather,
into damp pockets, stories rising
like steam from wet earth.
The rain says pour.
Crates of oranges,
flats of strawberries, lean in,
by Steve McDonald
When limestone faces
wear rivers of cracks,
and frozen grins
create only questions,
of a parent,
series of strokes
left lips uncertain:
the legacy, a hieroglyphic
of shattered Rosetta stone,
the chance for communion
with the one who is gone,
gone. Just a bed,
a shroud of sand piling
upon a craggy face,
a sheet of wind sliding
over the body like a lover,
silent yet ready
with the riddle,
the one it will carve
by Steve McDonald
Once, when a boy, I awoke alone
on the sun-baked boulders at the edge
of the canyon falls to find a snake,
green and yellow, curled on the rock
next to me, asleep, it seemed, or nearly so,
although its eyes were open, or perhaps
I was asleep and dreaming, for I did not move,
just gazed through eyes that seemed to have opened
in a way they had not opened before,
the snake and I waiting and watching
as the steady elegy of the waterfall
spilled into the sun-filled pool. And then,
it seemed, I awoke again to find myself
at the edge of the off ramp, waiting
for the light to change, waiting to turn
into the coffee shop for a cup of green tea
and a pastry to ease the burden
of the long drive home, and as I waited
and watched, a yellow motorcycle swung
like a scythe from one lane to the next,
then pulled to a stop in front of me,
and the rider, a boy in a red jacket,
rested his foot on the earth, one lover
leaning into another, then bent at the waist
as if to embrace his bike, the full moon
of his helmet rising above the curve
of his jacket, and emblazoned
on his helmet were scriptures of death,
one bone-white skull after another
so that when he surveyed the road
to his right and then to his left
all I could see were rotating skulls,
empty eye sockets, dark nasal cavities,
and I wondered why one would enwreathe
his head with death, what need that might fill,
and then I thought of the snake, its gaze
upon my gaze, and the pool, and the fall
of the water, and my own awakening,
and my eyes opened again to this boy,
the skulls adorning his head my invitation,
it seemed, to quicken him with imagining,
ensoul him with wondering, as together
we waited to spill into the pool of evening.