Man on Fire

Elliot Ruchowitz-Roberts, above, also co-authored Bowing to Receive the Mountain with Lin Jensen.

In Elliot Ruchowitz-Roberts’ new volume of poetry, White Fire, published by Henry Miller Library’s Ping-Pong Free Press, is a brief poem titled “At That Moment.”

“the morning sun traced/ the outline of the egret./ Of course, words fail.”

Actually, words do not often fail poet, teacher and translator Ruchowitz-Roberts. Not in this volume. Not when he’s touring people through Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House as vice president of the Tor House Foundation. Not (in my memory) when he was my creative writing teacher at MPC. And not when he’s reciting his poems, which he’ll do this Sunday at Henry Miller Lab, backdropped by photographs of book designer Alan Stacy.

“When I looked at the poems,” Ruchowitz-Roberts says, “I thought of Jeffers’ declaration, ‘A poet is one who listens/ To nature and his own heart.’ The natural world stuns me with its beauty and brings me into the present moment.”

Many poems share his life with the reader as if we are intimate friends. Notes in the back of the book, little backstories and contexts, help unlock the poems further – a friendly act. A number of poems mark anniversaries in his 50-year marriage to his departed wife, Tey; his cherished nature hikes; of travels to, and observations in, faraway places. These are paeans to life and love. But there are many encounters with sadness and grief.

In “Walking Stick” he brings us inside trepidation and tragedy, looking at his fear of mountain lion attack in the redwood forest with, maybe, ironic bemusement. Life’s more dependable dangers – like death, like illness – are always tracking us, ready to pounce unannounced, and there is little protection from them that doesn’t also deprive us of the “stillness and beauty” of life.

Sometimes the best course – the only course – he seems to counsel, is to keep walking, to keep living, to keep loving.

Walter Ryce has been an arts writer, calendar editor, culture columnist, sometime photographer, and one-time web content coordinator for the Monterey County Weekly. He began working at the paper, which is based in his hometown of Seaside, in 2007.

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