Small Circles of Time by Lorence Gutterman

Author photograph: Sharon Gutterman

In his first book, Small Circles of Time: Poems from a South Dakota Childhood, Lorence Gutterman writes in a clear-cut style reminiscent of Ted Kooser. His poems depict the difficulties and joys of childhood, a memorable cast of small town characters, and a love of the natural world—all of this the stuff of a latter-day Spoon River Anthology in which neither the good nor the bad is short-shrifted. This book reaches deep into the heart. Although the details of life in Flandreau, South Dakota are vividly specific, there is an archetypal feel to the trials and triumphs of a growing boy with the soul of an artist in a farm town community. That he is left-handed in a right-handed world and Jewish in a carol-singing parish are metaphors for his feeling of being different from others. Always, however, there is the joy of being the son of parents whose love is a blessing; and the book ends with a gorgeous series of poems in praise of the author’s mother. Physician and author Richard Selzer has commented that “Small Circles of Time by Lorence Gutterman is a collection of the finest poems of our time.

Cover photograph: Arthur Center
They are totally devoid of the pomp of language and the vanity of the author. Instead, they are pure and honest and unadorned, aiming straight for the heart. One finishes this collection of poems with the feeling that the author is standing within arm’s reach. Such is the living portrait he offers the reader in poem after poem. The triumphs and sadness of childhood, filial and paternal devotion, and the beauty of the natural world are subjects the author renders in translucent language and resplendent imagery.”

As a boy growing up in Flandreau, South Dakota, Lorence Gutterman helped to plant the family garden, worked in his parents’ general store, and roamed the countryside, learning “another way to look at life.” He graduated from the University of Virginia, majoring in religion and philosophy, and then went on to graduate from the Medical College of Virginia. As a physician, Lorence specialized in hematology and oncology, at the same time continuing his love of writing. In 2002 he shifted his focus from medicine to writing. After a move to West Hartford, Connecticut, he was invited by Dr. Richard Selzer to teach in the Humanities in Medicine Program at the Yale School of Medicine. At Yale, Lorence teaches creative writing workshops and is a mentor to students. He also teaches creative writing to prison inmates. Lorence centers his life with meditation and yoga, and most importantly with marriage to Sharon, his life partner of forty-eight years. They have three children and eight grandchildren.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-02-3

Copyright © 2011 by Lorence Gutterman

5.5" x 8.5" paperback, 76 pages




Hitching Post

That’s me now with white hair,
the darker years seeped into the ground.
I’ve grown taller in confidence.
Reminds me of the rusted hitching post sunk
deep into the soil in our front yard
by the curb on 2nd Avenue,
with two metal rings like eyes
looking for the reins of the freckle-faced boy
holding on tightly.



The Redman house like an overgrown shack
where Jim lived with his mother, a Sioux Indian,
had no bathroom. He was my age.
I could walk to his house or ride my bike two blocks
across Pipestone Avenue.

Their outhouse, like an outcast, sat at the edge
of oak trees. I looked inside it once,
went back into their house which had grown in size.

I biked home,
never asked Jim about it.


Candling Eggs

Candling eggs in the delivery room
of our family’s general store,
I walked past sacks of spuds,
boxes of onions, turnips and cabbage,
to a darkened corner.
I turned on the candling light,
rotated each egg
like a precious gem in front of the bulb
to rate clarity, detect a flaw,
like the sun holding the earth
in the palm of its gravity.

I remember at my Bar Mitzvah
the Torah was held up to the light
streaming in through stained glass windows
as if to candle the embryo
of my thirteen years.


The mood of the sky looks into us.
After the storm the dark clouds move on,
hitched together like a wagon train rumbling.

It’s the dust they stir up that is difficult
to be rid of, dust that clings like lint
to the clothing of our happiness.

Thursday Evenings in Summer

Patriotic patrons of the Thursday night band concerts
on the courthouse veranda
listened with their windows rolled down
in Chevys, Fords, Plymouths parked at the curb,
brands as loyal as the tunes of Sousa.

Explosion of sounds about war, victory, freedom
filled the twilight.
After each song we reveled in the salvos of horns.
We tuned our instruments
as if bombs were harmonious on impact.

Aunt Johanna’s Funeral

I sit at graveside,
my aunt’s name stares at me.
I shovel dirt onto her coffin
in the three-degree wind-chill.

White hushed hillsides,
taciturn blue sky,
vanished sounds of birds.

“You should have a coat on.
This is Iowa in January, you know.”

After the Seder Meal

After the Seder meal is finished, the Afikomen is found,
and we sing Dayenu,
my mother conducts her own service.
I hear the zeal of the vacuum cleaner as it gathers
bits of matzah scattered like sand on the Oriental rug,
the light parting the sea of dust.
Then she stands on the back porch step,
shakes the linen table cloth, its contents dispersing,
settling like ancient tribes.

Darning Socks

She sits in the den, at her feet
a cluster of socks in disarray
in a basket like a litter of pups,
the lit floor lamp assisting her
as she stitches up wounds,
the scent of a peach cobbler
cooling in the kitchen
like salve for the burn of summer.

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