“These poems are beautifully shaped, and written with such verve that they finally become a dark, unswerving music of self-discovery.  The subjects are varied – from a night time constellation to a salmon run. What is constant is the level of craft and care, and the eloquence of feeling which shines out of this distinguished debut collection.”
     -- Eavan Boland, author of Domestic Violence

“John Struloeff writes solid, sonorous lines. He knows work and has respect for work. He doesn't need to mystify you with fancy footwork. He locks into the struggle it is to be a man.  I put him in the great tradition of Philip Levine and Richard Hugo.”
    -- Howard Junker, ZYZZYVA

“John Struloeff’s poems bear witness with unsentimental tenderness and sober respect to the community of loggers and fishermen of the Northwest, men making difficult lives out of a natural world whose spiritual power they contact only as they destroy it.” 
   -- Donald G. Marshall, The Poetry Foundation

"A poet to watch." 
   -- John R. Guthrie, Harvard Square Commentary

"John Struloeff’s extended nature metaphors give poignancy to verse detailing loss." 

- - - - -


They fly down from the mountains
in their high-rise trucks with half-mufflers
rumbling and rattling, burnt diesel
trailing, scenting the air until long after
they’ve passed.  It is Friday,
and shortly after you sit at the bar,
numb and sore from flipping sticks
at the mill, their trucks will roar
into the gravel lot, and they will park
at the far edge and slam their doors.
They talk and laugh loud
like veterans of an artillery unit,
and when they push through the door,
they’re all you hear.
They smell like overheated engines
and moss, and wherever they stand or sit
they shed wood chips and fine dust,
order mugs of watered sap,
tell stories metered in board-feet.

Mondays, after they’ve returned from hidden
lives in houses far in the trees,
they chew their sandwiches in the Mini-Mart,
looking out at their trucks beneath the cloudy skies.
They are trying to remember the trees
yet to be faced, sawed, and felled.
They are still feeling the jump
and kick and hum of the saws
in their hands.  Too soon, the crew chief
starts his truck, and as it idles—
the knock-knock of diesel—the others
rise and ease their way outside,
nodding at the young woman cashier.
Their trucks clatter to life,
and they all back away and bump
onto the road, snarling and rasping
back up into the trees.



The man I was supposed to be works
in a small cedar mill in Oregon.
The heel of his left boot is worn smooth
by the way the engage lever makes him stand,
the shift he has to make, grinding his heel,
a slow turn as the log carriage feeds the wood
that will shriek against the rolling blade.
He watches the blade eight hours a day,
and when he goes home to sleep,
he sees the blade rolling in the dark.

The man I was supposed to be has two sons,
and when his youngest is loud he twists his ear,
watching for the boy’s eyes to well with tears.
Knock off the racket, he says.  The TV’s on.
If the boy does it again, he grabs him by his hair,
drags him to his room, then watches TV in silence,
the way it is supposed to be.

The man I was supposed to be buys beer in a case
and drives around at night, looking for a friend
to drink it with.  He drinks until his face is numb
and awakens on the cement floor of his garage,
lying flat on his back, his arms spread.
Both of his hands are bleeding.

The man I was supposed to be tracks deer
on the leaf-covered trails behind his house.
There is a doe ahead of him somewhere,
and he kneels to place his fingertips on its tracks.
That night he will smell the rawness of warm bone
and blood.  It will hang in his garage seven days
until he begins to separate the loosened joints
and carefully strip the flesh.  He will do it alone,
at night, his forearms and hands coated in blood. 
Like the stink of beer-sweat and fresh cedar dust,
this odor will stay in his skin for days.



The rain was the least of it.
Pitch stains on our hands,
knuckles bloodied from nicking
engine metal, boots muddied—
each day, we stopped by to knock
on unanswered doors,
when love was an animal
that had become a carcass,
when fathers had steady, gun-ready
eyes and mothers were to contain
somehow the unending storms—here
there was no lightning or thunder,
only wind and the draining of clouds.
Warm drops rolled down our cheeks,
our hands flecked with silver
scales, our fingernails holding grease,
smelling of salmon oils.
I’m putting in extra hours to save up
was how we always began describing
our place near these mountains.



Twenty years ago
my father described a picture
he’d taken in Korea, the forests burning,
the crackling of gunfire
like branches popping in the wind.
He did not want to forget
the day so many friends had died.
But he had forgotten
the film, left it to burn
in the pocket of his uniform
in a fire meant to kill lice and disease.
Now he sees things he can’t describe,
no picture to show, or explain.

Thirty years after Korea,
he liked to split wood for days alone,
and he would try to answer
questions of a ten year-old son, wanting to give
something I could hold onto when he was gone.

Now I return this Christmas
from years away,
and he is old
and thinks he will take me clamming once,
one thing he has never shown me.
He describes clams as big as my forearm
as we drive onto the sand
and as we wade out into the ocean.
But my father has forgotten the lantern,
and the sun has just set, the roiling water
calm for a moment, the sand
darkening like a blackened highway.
Our jackets flap in the wind,
our knees bend against the drawing surf.
He purses his lips and shakes his head,
saying without words for the hundredth time: 
he has forgotten.
So when we can no longer see our truck
or our feet beneath us,
we still stand in the ocean. 
A city of lights scatters along the surf-break,
men, families, all waiting
for the surf to recede
so they can begin searching this darkness
for life.




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Individual poems first published in
The Atlantic Monthly
The Southern Review
Prairie Schooner
Open Spaces Magazine
War, Literature & the Arts
Rosebud Magazine
and many others...