In Memoriam, Martha Heasley Martha Cox: Lyric Poem by Peter Nathaniel Malae

Image of lyric poem manuscript by Peter Nathaniel Malae


The end arrives again, as the mallards honk their way across the graying Yamhill Valley sky.

Their form is nearly flawless, lined into their “V” of avian assemblage, ingenuity of flight that every pilot worth the weight must learn at an academy.

It’s rare to witness grace, it’s rarer still to have some inner bearings where the grace is processed right, it’s rarest to look inward.

We were told to do the thing that doesn’t hurt another human being, just before the storm broke through our tortured little home, and there was nowhere you could fly.

The sky was daunting then, is daunting now, even though the light, above the birds, has cracked the clouds so truly that there’s nothing left for me to see.

What guides their southbound journey save each other?

What drives them onward but the cold?

Peter Nathaniel Malae About Peter Nathaniel Malae

Peter Nathaniel Malae, a former John Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, is a novelist, poet, playwright, and short story writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest. Teach the Free Man, his 2007 short story collection, was a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award, the Glasgow Prize, and a notable book selection by the Story Prize. What We Are, his first novel, was a New York Times Editor's Choice, a winner of the San Francisco Foundation's Joseph Henry Jackson Award, and a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Book Award. His novel Our Frail Blood, published to critical acclaim in 2013, is an epic about the dissolution of an American family in three generations. A former MacDowell Colony Fellow, he is a 2015 Oregon Literary Fellow and the author of two new novels, collections of poems and short stories scheduled for publication, and a play, The Question, being developed for production.


  1. Peter Malae has done Martha Heasley Cox a brilliant turn with his inspirational poem. What drove Dr. Cox onward was the prospect of having a warm and welcoming intellectual, academic home for John Steinbeck in Steinbeck Country. SJSU is fortunate that her legacy has given us the ability to foster the careers of so many scholars and writers and teachers who care deeply about Steinbeck’s values. Peter Malae is a living testament to the value of this kind of visionary philanthropy.

  2. Paul Douglass says:

    This poem, and Malae’s thoughtful and disturbing comments on the reality of the writer’s craft, make me wonder yet again about what is happening out there, as traditional publishing houses have all but disappeared, and MFA programs proliferate. It makes one remember that there are no shortcuts to true achievement, and that the journey, as Malae points out, can often lead you up a dead end street. The other writers represented here in this post about the Steinbeck Fellows program are also to be applauded for their courage and their perseverance. What a wonderful legacy Martha Heasley Cox left them, and us.

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