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Other notable work by Mark Bennion.
Tommy was the first pet I had in Eden,
par·a·keet seemed to fit—small parrot
with long tail, the color of apple, new leaf,
and lemon; harsh, irritating song.
I called it “screaming” at first but my softer side
said, “Song, Adam, song.”
Eve taught me about mu·sic—a medley
of sounds and tones, as of the wind.
Cain taught me that some music is hard
to hear: “Father, I have killed Abel
and buried myself where frozen stars
draw black flowers from my grave.”
That was a song.
I clipped Tommy’s wings the day of Abel’s death,
with scis·sors—a cutting instrument, two pivoted blades.
I gathered the yellow, green, and dark
red shadows in the valley of my palm.
Eve sang a music I could hardly hear.
I inserted one-by-one into the warm earth of Abel’s grave
the cool feath·ers—lighter than flowers, less afraid
of flying; colorfast and hardened by a harsh song.
This horned skull I found
at the cliff’s base
is so like a giant shell
I raise it to my ear
and hear the hundreds
of bison drumming
through the sage, see
the chosen fall—dust
to dust—onto the holy
ground, feel the thunder
of their landing, wet
nostrils blowing blood.
When reverent blades
begin to rip through fur
and skin, I check the sky
for a revelation of beasts.
Elegy for a Soldier
As a boy, he loved when deep white
filled the full yard, and made it glow
in the dark at dinnertime. He watched it
while he ate, the way some watch fire,
and couldn’t wait to bundle up
and go it alone through the snow.
Outside—his ears numb with the acoustics
of winter—he burrowed through drifts
and heavy powder like a soldier wounded
and left for dead. He crossed the enemy’s country.
He killed. Mother and Father watched him
from the window, and the dangers he imagined
were confined to a square of yellow light
on the snow. To know what it was to fight,
to die, he would have stayed out till dawn.
But his mother’s voice kept calling him in
to a fire and a warm cup he could hold
between small, reddened hands.
Jim Richards completed a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature at the University of Houston in 2003 and has since been teaching at Brigham Young University–Idaho. His poems have appeared in the Texas Review, Perspective, and Literature and Belief. He is currently serving as the poetry editor of Irreantum.
Merges with the squirrel’s grin.
Wisps of it in teeth. Rises from crew cut
to reveal ponytail,
then waves in the wind,
claims, “This is how we do it. This is how
we return.” Bows again as if to make stronger.
Bows again as if on stage.
A blade, a blade, a blade—
each one, child or convict, rearing up.
Spindle after spindle points the way,
or hides the unseen snake
from the sandbox child.
Crowded, yet defers to dandelion curls.
Lifts weeds to sky. Nostril ping.
Going to dew. Available: its beard
of loam, its spinal fluid, the swelter
that wears it down. Stolid, blind,
or stammering. The soft spin
of a badminton net . . . all the routine.
Again; surging, tickle on the neck,
prayer that stains the knees. The night
The flare of end zone comatose in winter.
Sunbathers offered to the light.
Imagining You the Morning After My Birth
You cradle me in the yellow haze
after a fitful night. Your stomach
still ablaze with uterine contractions
as I learn how to eat. The St. Mary
nurses coo and question, juggle IV’s
and needles, medicine and bed sheets.
You look for yourself and your parents
in my swollen face, measure this fist against
your pointer finger. There are shivers
of hunger passing between us, muscles
that will take another three trimesters to heal.
With one hand you trace the cartilage
and sinew along the ridges of my nose
and chin, with the other you prop up
my neck and witness my effort to swallow.
From the other rooms come staid, doctored
voices and intermittent moans. You’d pray
for these women—your sisters now in their terror—
in their offering of blood, lungs, and bone,
but it’s all you can do to remember
the next visitor as your head begins to nod,
bobbing to the even rhythms of sleep.
I hear your regular heartbeat and open one eye
toward the hunch of your shoulder
and wrinkled hospital gown. Your hair is matted
with the strains of yesterday’s sweat, the strands
of blond tucked in by exhaustion as you take
this moment for yourself, this necessary
point of departure, like a ship heading
for the sea. In days to come I’ll receive
the newspaper praise and starboard attention
from my brothers. Yet in the core of wrinkles
and puppet fingers, in the jolts and stops
of this flesh and the scarred emblems
of your body, we know the real star
of the past nine months—a constellation
I am just now beginning to see.
What is easy to know
arrives alone and incandescent,
long after a sermon or fight.
The mind grows clear as water
beneath the mid-May sun.
And then, at night
when sorrow and guilt
dangle on cerebral pulleys
so the curtain can’t descend,
release and movement
open doors and keys
are common as salt.
Despite the clarity
and crumpled friction
the face hitches to TV.
Ears burn for Drs. Phil
and Laura, for the thrum
of Internet speed, the routine
of New Year’s Eve.
hunch the body before long
to stoic indecision
or a slump before a slot machine.
Somehow I still trick myself
in the recess between mental
gifts and physical lethargy
to hike over what’s known
to what I may regret—
the rattle of opening night,
the Chorus’ painted face,
rows of bodies
with their yawns and yaps—
to the banner of what could
but does not change.
Mark Bennion’s poetry has appeared in Aethlon, RHINO, Natural Bridge, and other journals. His first book of poems, Psalm & Selah: a poetic journey through the Book of Mormon, appeared in 2009 (Parables Publishing). In 2000, he graduated with an MFA from the University of Montana, and for the past ten years has taught writing and literature courses at Brigham Young University–Idaho.