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Other notable works by Michael Meyerhofer, Denise Sweet and Brent Goodman.
It’s a high, dry place on the short grass where
we pause in a sharp wind among the graves.
Oh, the great sadness, the distance tawny
with it, the color of wind, of wind and
desolation, here where it seems we are
alone, even as we stand together.
FIELD WITH CROWS
So all the crows settle down
to sort things out, though there’s
not much difference to sift.
We are at the edge of
the road. They are in the field.
Their darkness. The black dirt.
Oh, the blue sky, one of them
wants to talk about. The creek.
The last of the seeds. Which tree
shall be yours, and which mine?
What of love, another asks.
So they pair off, as we do.
Evening comes. The darkness —
theirs and ours. They don’t know
what to say to us. And we don’t
know what to say to them.
We have never known.
Love remains the mystery.
at the window,
from it. She has
lost the will
to resist and
lies down now
The world is
grease and smoke
with no one
to say good-bye.
thrown at paper
up to dry.
Say This is
what I mean.
Marriage, like those
night dogs calling
across the water,
in the distance.
Sometimes we speak
their long, high vowels.
Their needs are simple:
eat meat, get sleep,
pass on their genes.
Ours, not so much,
or so it seems.
Tom Montag is most recently the author of In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013. Other poems will be found at Architrave Press, Atticus Review, Blue Heron Review, The Chaffin Journal, Hamilton Stone Review, The Homestead Review, Little Patuxent Review, The Magnolia Review, Mud Season Review, Plainsong, Portage, Red Fez, South 85, Sand, Third Wednesday, Town Creek Poetry, and other journals. He blogs as The Middlewesterner and serves as Managing Editor of the Lorine Niedecker Monograph Series, What Region?
Let’s say you’re sitting in a coffee shop
reading a book of poems when
someone in the next room
starts playing Moonlight Sonata on the piano
which reminds you of your mother,
then you turn and page and here I am
describing the exact same thing.
Sure, you’d marvel at the coincidence,
but what happens next?
What social networking program
will carry the news, which will
likely fail to impress your friends?
I suppose you could write me a letter
but what if I’m dead by now?
It happens. So many years since
the invention of language, let alone
sadness. And every year,
more bones rinsed clean as those
oversized cups resting upside-down
on a black tray behind the counter.
My friend, the single mom, is trying
to keep her cool as her thirteen-year-old boy
kicks the dog, throws his plate across the room,
lies on the floor pounding with both fists
like his skinny arms will help him
break back into the womb, but really
I just want to smack him across the cheek
as her sautéed asparagus slides down
the wine-and-canary wallpaper
and she tries counting backwards
like one of those uniforms in a missile silo,
just want to grab that crying face
the color of the pan-seared salmon
steaming on her fine plush sofa and squeeze
until his eyes swell up like radishes
the way mine did the first time
I took a straight jab in boxing class,
then a blurring right hook that undercut
all my faith in angst—which,
as it turns out, is weaker than knuckles,
than the skin they wear like an apron.
Last night when we were lying in bed together,
everything good, death and separation
as distant as those stars with Arabic names,
I suddenly thought of another night many years ago
when I found myself in a Walmart in Indiana
at three a.m. and I was so damn lonely
that I bought a body pillow to cuddle with,
only when I got it home and took it out
of the box, it was about as soft as partially
cooled lava and smelled besides, some kind
of factory-born cleaner to keep the bugs away,
only by then the sun was coming up
like it is now, and it’s hard to care sometimes,
and heat you know is really just atoms
moving faster, that’s all it is, but I like the heat
we make under blankets in the throat
of winter, how just by existing, parts of me
move faster whenever yours are close by.
ODE TO THE REPAIR GUY
While Dale the repair guy addresses
the charred out fuse box in the kitchen,
persistent lust of his saber-saw
kicking the smell of sawdust
throughout the whole apartment
I am trying to write poetry
about chopsticks, reading the latest stuff
from the ezines, pausing whenever
it sounds like he might come back
and catch me with verse on the screen:
a haiga featuring a naked woman
some might mistake as pornography.
I’m having trouble with a tanka;
another poem about astrology requires
a reference to fine scotch I can’t find.
Twice, Dale walks in and interrupts me:
once to explain how two-by-fours
aren’t actually two inches by four inches
anymore, which is why he has to cut
and trim the space behind the cabinets
to make the new box fit; the second time
to ask if I mind him smoking.
I say I don’t—as the blue smoke
drifts from his lips, he tips his head like
a Japanese dragon and comments
on how his biopsy came out negative,
shows me the crescent scar on his chest
in a moat of tangled gray hair. I find
the reference I need, roll the word
ballantine on my tongue, again and again
until I can almost taste its syrupy musk,
feel justified weaving it into a poem.
Meanwhile, Dale goes out to his truck
to look for a longer blade, comes back,
goes out again for more cigarettes
then asks me what I’m working on.
I want to tell him my frustrations over
poets who think modern haiku
must be written with seventeen syllables
the way others who don’t write poetry
expect all of it to rhyme in pentameter.
Instead, I answer Just some school work
then explain how in exchange for a master’s
degree I’m teaching composition
to a class of nearly illiterate freshmen—
his attention drifts, he saws some more
then goes out for some lunch,
returns later with a faint smile and
tells me it’s snowing outside. I like that,
he says, how it makes them bare trees pretty.
Michael Meyerhofer’s fourth book, What To Do If You’re Buried Alive, was published by Split Lip Press. He is also the author of a fantasy trilogy and the Poetry Editor of Atticus Review. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, Mid-American Review, Hayden’s Ferry, Rattle, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and other journals. For more information and at least one embarrassing childhood photo, please visit troublewithhammers.com.
The Lost Maya
At Panahachel, I sat in cathedrals,
lit candles to invoke the patron saint
of beggars, a statue poised to gaze from
within the wooden alcoves, his eyes
bearing down on me in stone cold indifference.
Light fell through stained glass as I gave prayer
a chance; cofradias swung tin cans at each
doorway burning pendulums of copal while
the stiff planks beneath my knees show
years of anonymous penance.
As I leave for the plaza, I hear the click and low
whistle of young boys sitting outside on the
cathedral steps; though my skin brown,
my nose Mayan, and I call myself Indigena,
I bear an unearned pride that makes no sense here.
To them I am the gringa who hides her privilege
like a birthmark, groomed, well-dressed, and
unused to the heat, I am the foreigner of
complaint of El Norte. I st each day in the zocolo
sip espresso, ask for photos, touch huipiles aquapiles
from Aititlan, Cortes bloodred as the lava from Pavayu.
I watch the bonegames of chance in the parke central:
black candles, popping eggs, glint of gold in the smiles
of Mishimon amidst the smoke and fire, the chatter of
the daykeepers, and as they sing, the sound of kachikel
dancing barefoot on the edge of the world.
Farmer Takes A Wife
Hard rains came the end of spring. Riverbanks melted into slur. New watermarks each morning the day before, just shy of flood stage. The long fever does not shake loose this time. Chills and night terrors sweep through the house until dawn. He cannot place the line once drawn from delirium to fever and insanity anymore, unable to decide whether to to sharpen his axe or to grease his brake lines of the family Buick. Who can blame him for wanting to drag for days through acres of the black, musky soil, listening to Patsy Cline, chew packed hard into his lower lip? No amount of prayer will lift the heavy weight of Black Earth crop failure this time. Another favorite barncat, clinging like wet laundry to the woodpile. The baby rests on a damp mattress, waiting for a burial. Bread sits soggy in the pantry while his wife gnaws on the windowsill. The farmer has not moved from his chair for days, looking at the fields that once held seeds of everything he was to become. The Farmer’s Almanac sits open to the charts of annual crop predictions while sprouted seeds ferment and bubble, their yeasty odor.
All the Animals Came Singing
I. Somewhere between nowhere and shadow
you held still and quiet, and quick slip
and you would totter over the edge of the world
Taking with you ancient songs of love, of devotion
of longevity; songs that celebrated
the simple elegance of living in balance.
So many whimpered in your absence
the throat singers tried in vain to call
you back, other winged creatures felt lost
and caught off from the harmonious crane song
that once trumpeted across the marshlands
the width of the riverbanks.
It was in our ignorance we fell silent.
Helpless, anxious to be of use,
we began to think of swamps and bogs
as eerie, ugly and useless.
We drained those drained those windigo wetlands
paved them over or planted crops
that floundered or refused to take root;
We tried to fill and give function to the emptied camps
of the whooping cranes: or were we trying to fill
that empty nest in our hearts shaped by your absence?
II. We are told that it is inborn in all living beings
to return to the place of its beginning, to rise and sweep
with what strength is left and begin that wondrous trek
towards home, no matter the distance, no matter the passage.
One day, you appeared shy, secretive, you appear in the bright mist.
As in your own emergence account, you stood before us, waiting
for us to send out a simple prayer, greet you by simply standing still.
You stood before us, elegant, erect, majestic in form, a hooded shaman
from the farthest sky out of range of the naked eye.
And all of the animals came singing.
Denise “Dee” Sweet Anishinaabe (aka Ojibwe: aka Chippewa, enrolled at White Earth) Professor Emerita, Humanistic Studies,English, First Nations Studies
WI Poet Laureate, 2004-2008
In the Middle of the Music
The secret to drawing symphony from a cello
is in the angle you rest its neck along yours,
and recognizing your lover the only other hips
you cradle your knees around this relaxed.
Lay a waterfall on its side and call it whitewater:
both names equally blurred and beautiful.
Art intentionally slows time to dilate the present,
the voice calling faint from midpoint suggests,
and as soon as I find my center he’s the first digits
I plan on dialing. The way I planned my mid-life crisis
to feature a hospital rooftop helipad landing scene starring
a medevac nurse who radiates light like young Mother Mary
in an orange flight suit and radio helmet. Let’s say I arrived in style
and survived to discover I will live to enjoy exactly 74 years,
or at least until I change my mind again. As if every choice’s
unchosen branches grow through your living room drywall
to pierce someone else’s living room, where they’re called
“opportunities” I guess, by a man who, like you, thinks
he’s just doing the goddamned best he can. You’re both
right, which just might explain how a bow unspools song
from nothing but taut wound string, a hammered note,
and the star maps folded within a cello’s body.
Views From the Backseat
Alabama’s Greatest Hits cassette tape
thumb-pressed into the player console.
Endless green freeway exit signs
audience to argument and silence alike.
Downtown interchange concrete ramps
and blue sky, a smokestack, coal barge.
Fast food drive thrus drive thrus drive thrus
and oily paper sacks crumpled at my feet.
The line between two brothers, his side,
my side, the invisible brother between us.
Sure: a rainbow, heron, bikini, ambulance.
Bank tellers and their great sliding drawers.
Gas pumps. Cathedrals. Driving through forest,
windows down, a song from the radio returning.
And If The Body Were Not The Soul
On the elevated giraffe feeding platform
a grey prehensile tongue wraps and grabs
the rye crisp from my hand (2 for $1),
this head wide as any horse now absurdly
eye to eye, neck taller than my entire body
stands. I’m with my partner (whom I love but
cannot marry) and his sister (whom I love
but cannot marry) at The New Zoo.
Where earlier I beamed Reiki to a llama
who carried a dirty rug on its back. Jesus –
what is the soul, anyway? Spotting cell towers
during the drive made me wonder just
how many conversations speed through us,
what wind between our molecules, writing books
on the fly. The crowd on the feeding platform
is shoulder to shoulder, and yes we touch,
and yes I shiver easily, and yes emotion
creates weather and the heart is a pulsar.
Over picnic we question if a giraffe eating nothing
but rye crisps, standing in a sunken cement pen
licking strangers fearful hands all day is healthy
for anyone. What is the body? my Soul asks,
serving me chopsticks of cold golden tofu.
Later my partner and his sister baby-talk the newest
Japanese Macaque when suddenly I notice
there’s strollers everywhere, children screaming
in fear or delight along the winding concrete paths.
O couples who must marry but might not love!
I was walking past a sullen jock carrying his unexpected
infant in a sling when his cell phone called mine:
My life has mistaken me for someone else.
Orgasms can do this, and more. Before I was born
I chose my parents, how about you?
Between molecules conversations breach lightspeed.
I most wanted to visit the 40-yr old
giant tortoise and simply climb inside.
Pockets of Sheer Wind
What’s the name of that song that goes
I love you I love you I love you
right before the pedal swell of a steel guitar?
The wolf tooth moon wants to know,
not me. I want to know if I can take
a train through a mountainside, and if so,
where one might hop on. I carry an eclipse
in each eye, just in case. What’s the name
of the place where the back of my hand
brushed the ass of your Levis and we
both pretended it didn’t. I want to dance
there, to that song the moon wants
to know, with you, until we do.
The Night Longer Than Algebra
and above the dark blue sundown
a thumbnail tear in the sky reveals
the universe is nothing but white light.
But little numbers all painted white.
And what the window frames also
always moves. I asked a bird and
the answer was algebra, and the tree
was geometry and the sickle sweep
above the horizon is growing brighter,
or has the blue now all but left us?
Gratitude is the act of greeting
every stranger as if they approached you
in dream. Or every letter the moon
tries to hand you. The curved light equations
pouring through – operators, variables,
expressions and like terms too, all pollen
on a bee’s hind legs. What the mind frames
also always moves. I asked a hive
and the answer swarmed everywhere.
To create the most realistic 3-D animation
of a waterfall, special effects teams employ fractal
algorithm programs. Only when you divide
water-rendered spheres by the divine proportion
layer after layer to infinity does it begin to appear
both falling and rising into brilliant mist at once.
Brent Goodman’s poems have appeared in Poetry, Sou’wester, Pleiades, Green Mountains Review, Pank, Diagram, and elsewhere. Goodman is the author of The Brother Swimming Beneath Me and Far from Sudden, both from Black Lawrence Press.