my review of Only Witness by Jim Powell

Short stories, a university professor once told our class, offer us a glimpse into a life, a moment, often a defining one, when the character of the people in the story is clearly visible. At least that’s how he explained how short stories were different than novels. Often I find that the case with stories that are concerned with character as opposed to dazzling the reader with language for language’s sake. It certainly is true of the 19 stories in Jim Powell’s collection Only Witness.

Whether it’s one snowy night in a  Midwestern smalltown bar or on board a train heading toward Vienna, these stories capture that moment when people are exposed in all their faults or strengths. Here a wife confronts her marriage to a sex addict while burying her father, two young men involved with the same woman try to reach an understanding over the welfare of the little boy they have both, in their own way, come to love, an eleven year old boy faces the consequences of a rash act, a son confronts his own responsibilities toward his mother who is slowly descending into dementia. These people, whether one could consider them admirable or misguided, are drawn with a clear eye and an understanding heart by Powell. He understands them and presents them without judgment. They are exposed in that moment for us to understand, too. This author writes with the wisdom gained from what must be a life rich in experience who possesses the mind, the heart, and the skill to portray it with insight and compassion. These are stories I will return to again and again. What better way to understand human natüre than in the hands of a talented writer.Only Witness

The Third Dimension by Denise Levertov

Who’d believe me if
I said, “They took and

split me open from
scalp to crotch, and

still I’m alive, and
walk around pleased with

the sun and all
the world’s bounty.” Honesty

isn’t so simple:
a simple honesty is

nothing but a lie.
Don’t the trees

hide the wind between
their leaves and

speak in whispers?
The third dimension

hides itself.
If the roadmen

crack stones, the
stones are stones;

but love
cracked me open

and I’m
alive

to tell the tale–but not
honestly:

the words
change it. Let it be–

here in the sweet sun
–a fiction, while I

breathe and
change pace.

The Five Feet by Ed Sanders

You can always fight the foulest grief
with drinks and thrills
You can channelize your septum
with thousand dollar bills

But you better get obsessed again
on the Change Wheel’s rungs
or they’ll let the tumors grow
in the hummingbird’s lungs

You’ve got to have five feet
to skitter down the road

One foot in the grave
One foot in the glitter
One foot in the gutter
One foot in the glory
One foot near the Grail

Lawrence said to build a Boat of Death
upon that main
Well, you’d better patch the leaky Boat of Life
call it Paradise Plain

There’s nothing wrong with writing lines of verse
on a foam-flecked oar
Even if we cannot join Matisse
through Plato’s door

You’ve got to have five feet
to skitter down the road

One foot in the grave
One foot in the glitter
One foot in the gutter
One foot in the glory
One foot near the Grail

Climbing by Tom Clark

My heart in pieces like the bits
Of trains lost in the blue
Rain confused I roar off into
To learn how to build a ladder
With air in my lungs again
To be with you in that region
Of speed and altitude where our bodies
Sail off to be kissed and changed
By light that behaves like a hand
Picking us up in one state and putting
Us down in a different one every time