Just Breathing / Paul Nelson


Just Breathing

poems by

Paul Nelson

88 pages, $15 (+ shipping)

Projected Release Date: April, 2024

The Advance Sale Discount price on this title has expired. For those who prefer to pay by check, the price is $19/book (which includes shipping & sales tax) and should be sent to: Main Street Rag, 4416 Shea Lane, Charlotte, NC 28227. 

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Paul Nelson

The past is becoming my present; the future drags. Narratives and deep imagery rest or dance in memory (fictions by now) of my Norwegian and Finnish immigrant family, and decades of dogs, an old Maine farmhouse, lobstering, mowing fields, slaughtering sheep and beef. Splitting wood. Teaching. Some poems are from 20 years on O’ahu. Oceans and rivers simply exist, profound as the cosmos and never malicious. Einstein said that “the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Poems live in this illusion.

“Shama thrush can sing any song heard sung / as if some tune’s been trilling / the end of things forever…” Nelson’s existential awareness of cosmic time and continuity are at the heart of Just Breathing. Written in a language both grounded and transcendent, these lush poems suggest beauty in surrender and provide a visceral understanding of our very small place in a seemingly random and indifferent universe. ~Deni Naffziger, author of Strange Bodies


Paul Nelson has always so generously given his best throughout his comprehensive career as a poet and writer, educator and mentor, outdoorsman and angler. His new collection Just Breathing is testimony that Nelson, now in his late eighties, is continuing that commitment. “Incredible fish are still out there,” Nelson assures us in his poem “Fishing with a Long, Long Line,” and in Just Breathing he shows us the proof, skillfully reeling them in. ~Ralph Culver, author of A Passable Man


These new poems combine awareness of aging with youthful exuberance (and not only through memories), and often make the personal feel universal. They are the deeply observant poems of someone who lives close to the land (and the water) as well as his own heart and soul. Hard-edged and unflinching phrasing captures through details private moments made public and relatable through stunning high-energy language and imagery that are revelatory.  ~Richard Thomas Murray


Paul Nelson’s masterful poems in Just Breathing may be his best work yet. Striking language and brilliant imagery remind us that being human requires a reverence for the natural world: a dead puffer fish on the beach, “a wine bag with bouquet to keep…Can it sniff our wisps of soul?” These poems are burgeoning with life even as they embrace mortality. ~Jane Ann Fuller




Eying the foot-long wing feather
wasting on the gravel
Might make a fine quill pen
if I learn how to sharpen it … in which case
I’ll with flourish write my will. Or something.

I rinse and dry it, stand it in a blue glass
Mason jar, glowing on the window sill,
but a pal whines I can be fined by the Fed
100K for “anything eagle” in possession.

So I slide it into an inside jacket pocket,
trek to the RR bridge, a mile inland from the estuary.
Sun-ridden day, I’ll let it go because I cannot fly.
To be borne again, exquisitely, on water.

I squint upstream toward the immaculately
capped Cascade Range. And down through
the river bed, mazed with fractured trees.
No fishermen. Not a soul on the bridge.
I think, “I am not here.”

It arrows down, surfaces and sails,
unfazed, bowsprit first, over the horizon.





In blue gray morning coat and white vest the big gull
blusters about, circled by one kin and six of lesser brand
all dancing as if something ripe really stinks “over here”
on the dry sand …to distract it from the palm sized dab
it drops and hacks, drops and hacks, its puffed entirety
keeping all at bay,

knowing their antic need should never make them fraught,
stupid and weak by mercy or their own gratitude it batters
the flat, pathetic fish, shreds the darkside eyes, softens flesh
to make it fold like a wallet,

to teach them, guide them, as it deftly flips the dead thing
up in the air with red tipped beak, opens its gullet wider
than an operatic yawn to show the lavish pulsing heart
of just who gets to swallow things whole.





dropping below the horizon
silences our birds
that are not ours at all

We sleep or think of sleeping
which is a waste
Carbon our dog yawns

rises at dawn, sears his turf
with steaming piss, leg held high
shaky and antic with faith

the kind that relieves for some
a moon-wan galaxy of waning stars
a micro virus fading

for this is how it goes
Even big-named stars hide or implode
without the foolery of conscience

or malice …as they travel and die
on their way into light, or out of
who knows what ultimate cold,

toward a black hole, like the cellar hole
in the field around which my mind mows
just to order and be clear about the tiniest
heaviest space-time point or home
poetry figures with loony inexactitude.





The spongy loam stretches her thighs
where she squats in the graveyard quiet as moss
on the plot flowering daisies and dandelions

facing an etched stone as if she were receiving
a sentence or revelation …her husband’s name
her legs flexing but not spread to life

death or waiting
for someone anymore and
no one dead has been seen rising here

except the few kneelers she ignores
and a vicar with flock by a hole
his robe and tone dragging

up ethereal stairs and away from dirt
that has no malice
compared to his congregation

their confessions and secrets and even
politics, regard for the dead some bother
given nobody wants everybody back

having known so many glad to go
or worthy of departure
so who would know or judge her stillness

but her big man …an Iraq vet
who decided with a pistol not to remain
for reasons he would not speak

even whisper in the shade of trees
as she shifts a bit on lovely ankles
and as for knees forget your yearning

She cannot help you end your life
without her by your side
She has been through this before

seen you peering across the solemn stones
for some relief some life other than ashes
in an ornate can

She is not here to save herself
Or tolerate boys and men
with sharp and lively eyes

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