Exercising his own power over words, the longtime University of Idaho English professor and former Idaho state writer-in-residence has a new collection of poetry titled “Subtle Thieves” featuring 76 of his works. Many are humorous, even when touching upon dark topics, as in “Airport Security.”
“Surely the innocent ninety-year-old grandmother safely hunched in a wheelchair is contemplating some dramatic form of suicide, ramming herself at flank speed into my vulnerable knees before she triggers the bomb as she screams, ‘Jesus saves!’ I walk nonchalantly to the men’s room.”
Whether it’s a portrait of an out-of-work logger, an ode to cheap beer or the collecting of fish from a line on the Salmon River, McFarland’s poetry is easily accessible. The book is divided into two sections. The first touches on visits to various places around the U.S., sports, literary figures and other characters. The second section includes poems in first-person representing a sort of memoir stretching from the 1940s to the present.
The book’s cover illustration, “A Good Day on the Water,” was provided by Spokane artist Mel McCuddin and was chosen to reflect McFarland’s poems about angling.
The Moscow author also recently completed a biography of Lt. Col. Edward J. Steptoe (1815-65), which is making the rounds with publishers. Steptoe’s name lends itself to the butte between Moscow and Spokane where he was defeated in a battle with area Indian tribes. He narrowly escaped and the U.S. government responded with swift retribution.
“Subtle Thieves” is $15 and can be ordered from Pecan Grove Press, Box AL, 1 Camino Santa Maria, San Antonio, TX 78228. It is also available at the UI Bookstore and BookPeople of Moscow.
The title poem “Subtle Thieves” — printed below — originally appeared in the literary magazine “The Kerf.”
by Ron McFarland
“How soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stol’n on his wing …”
— John Milton (1631)
After a while time forgets to be subtle
and the long years begin to lean
hard; the knees go, the back, the soul
keeps begging for attention, security.
You forget the new neighbor’s name.
She steals tomatoes from your garden,
early mornings, you’re sure of that,
but you have no proof. She’s that subtle.
At long last you’ve learned to accept
defeat without the subtleties of grace,
shrugging off years of intrusive altruism
in favor of raw anger and the vow
never to get burnt. You’ve learned
how to kiss the hours, how to promise
the future with a handful of flowers.
When defeat builds across the street
and rents to college kids who deal,
meth you suspect, maybe some crack,
you keep your eyes open and wait.
You have learned to be as quiet
as an hourglass, subtle as a sundial.
You’ve learned to smile when the woman
next door waves goodbye and ripe
tomatoes drop from her coat pockets.