Review of my book “Turtle Blessing” (La Alameda Press, 1996)

Sometimes  the universe delivers unexpected gifts. In the early nineties, after Bill and I had moved to Santa Fe, we went to an arts festival (can’t remember its name, but I heard about it on the radio) in Albuquerque, where we met J. B. and Cirrelda-Snider Bryan, publishers of La Alameda Press. I had recently completed the manuscript of Turtle Blessing and told J. B. about it. He said he’d take a look at it—and to my joy, accepted it for publication. I was blessed with a beautiful cover design by J. B. , wonderful illustrations of a turtle shell by Bari Long, and humbling cover blurbs from John Brandi, Jack Loeffler, and Gary Lawless. I did some readings, and the book was well received.

Thirteen years have passed since then, and I am still as attached to the poems in Turtle Blessing as I was then—even did a reading from it several months ago in the local Borders. A week or so ago, as a result of having sent out the post about my poem “The Lone Ranger” appearing on the “Your Daily Poem” site, I heard from Cirrelda that a friend of theirs had written a review of Turtle Blessing—now in 2010! I asked Cirrelda to please give me a link to the review, and this morning she has kindly sent it to me.

It is not an accident that these gifts from the universe sometimes arrive when we most need them. Although it has been almost two years since Bill’s death (on October 11, 2008), and I have come a long way in my healing journey, there are still times when I miss him so much. This morning I woke up feeling lonely and a bit down. I am writing this just after reading Lisa Gill’s review, and the review has gladdened my morning heart on this hot and humid morning here in the southeast New Jersey shore area, where we wait to see whether Hurricane Earl will brush the coast or come further inland.

I am grateful that Lisa Gill loved my book enough to write such a moving review—and am glad my poems touch her heart. Although first and foremost, I write because a poem demands to be written, after work is published I hope that it will somehow reach out to and mean something to others. Here is the link to Lisa Gill’s review:

And here are the texts of the two poems she refers to in her review :


The Way Home

There is a way home.
It runs through the cornfields beneath the stars,
rises like a river
to wash the apple trees below the barn.
If you are careful you will not disturb the snakes
who curl in the tall weeds
beside the grassy path your feet have known.

Sometimes in the distance
you will see the others,
silhouettes on moonlit hills
carrying hoes over their shoulders,
returning from their fields
even as you go to yours,
sure-footed as a goat
down the stubbled rows toward sleep.

When you climb to the graveyard on the hillside,
stop among the old ones,
take off your clothes,
lie down on the earth
with your head in the shadows
the moon throws between tombstones,
and begin to count the stars
in the Milky Way.

You will run out of numbers.
You will run out of words.
You will forget how to talk to the sky.
You will forget where you have come from,
or where you are going.
You will only know that you are light
among the stars,
that cornfields spiral out from you
on every side, shining corn
as far as you can see—
even over the edge of the world,
that dark circle you have found
at last.



I watched its first green push
through bare dirt, where the builders
had dropped boards, shingles, plaster—
killing everything.
I could not recall what grew there,
what returned each spring,
but the leaves looked tulip,
and one morning it arrived,
a scarlet slash against the aluminum siding.

Mornings, on the way to my car,
I bow to the still bell
of its closed petals; evenings
it greets me, light ringing
at the end of my driveway.

Sometimes I kneel
to stare into the yellow throat,
count the black tongues,
stroke the firm red mouth.
It opens and closes my days.
It has made me weak with love,
this god I didn’t know I needed.


If after reading Lisa Gill’s review and my poems, you want a copy of Turtle Blessing,  you can order one from La Alameda Press, or on I also have copies for sale. It’s a blessing to know that this many years later, the book is still out there, still offering pleasure to those who come upon it.


About penhart

I am a poet and writer, published widely in journals and anthologies, and my literary autobiography appears as an extended essay in "Contemporary Authors." My poems have recently appeared in "Rattle" ,"Tiferet," and "U.S. 1 Worksheets". Work has also appeared in "The Valparaiso Poetry Review," and "Umbrella." Recent books include 'One Bowl" (2012); "Recycling Starlight" (2010); and "The Night Marsh" (2008).. Earlier collections include "Along River Road"; "Lizard Light: Poems From the Earth"; and "Buried in the Sky." My illustrated alphabestiary for children, "The Beastie Book," was published in the December, 2009, by Shenanigan Books. I have won three poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, as well as awards from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Mary Carolyn Davies Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the first William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award for my work in the anthology "American Nature Writing 2002." I was invited to be a "featured poet" and read at the 2010 Dodge Poetry Festival, and was awarded a residency / fellowship for January, 2011, at VCCA (Virginia Center for the Creative Arts." I live in the South Jersey shore area, and work as a visiting poet in the schools through programs sponsored by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and various other agencies. I'm still fairly new at blogging and hope to add more graphics, etc., as I learn more.
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2 Responses to Review of my book “Turtle Blessing” (La Alameda Press, 1996)

  1. Isn’t serendipity a most marvelous thing? Send out something wonderful and it will eventually come back to you. Glad you received it on a day when you especially needed it!

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