Two rivers converge:
An austere fugue of grays,
Jade pendants carved in the shape of twin dragons.
Classical in proportion, order, and structure,
The day, seemingly motionless,
Is as liquid as the downward flow
Over centuries of a vessel’s fired glaze.
The water’s surface confirms
Opacity at noon. At dusk, depth.
The stars reflected there
At last at rest: so much dust in equilibrium.
SYNOPSIS OF A BATTLE
How steep the curve of forgetting.
How cold the fire that flint holds.
Bladderwrack in a backwash of waves
Catches on a severed arm.
Moonlight scours and scathes
The scrabble of uninterred dead.
Night like black shale
Weighs down the wounded,
Who call out or are dumbstruck.
Gulls tug at skeins of flesh.
Pain, like the cauldron of a hornet’s nest,
If wholly audible, would be deafening.
A thousand arrows stuck in low tide marl,
Like reeds in the wind,
Lean back toward their archers.
PARABLE WITH MY FATHER AS A BOY
He woke at an hour the church bells no longer strike.
At that porous border between night and morning,
He gleaned windfall, russet to rose, all pocked and blemished,
And pressed it to a winy, tin-edged cider.
He foraged for seeds and nuts, dug up tubers.
Hung the white-tail from the rafters and slit its throat;
Its blood tick-tocked into a galvanized pail.
All this before his sisters woke and pestered him:
The thaw has come and yet our parents remain unburied!
Where are the eggs? Why has the milk soured?
Is that the Adversary stealing our nanny goat?
Only yesterday, while you napped, he sowed tares in the field!
KANSAS CITY, 1969
The boy is sent in to fetch his father.
The bar’s dark is narrow and shallow
Held down by cigarette smoke, a cloud
Backlit by a small black and white TV.
When the door shuts behind him,
The boy watches the smoke roil
And contort and he thinks of Judgment Day.
Little Jimmy, the barmaid calls him.
James is his father’s name and not his.
Come to take your daddy home?
Shadows well between her breasts.
An unbuttoned blouse button
Holds on by a single raveled thread.
He thinks of the damned dangling
Above a pit of dull sulfur and magma.
Little Jimmy climbs a bar stool and begins
To spin. He spins and spins, delirious.
He slips down of the stool and staggers,
Enacts a clumsy slow dance with the coat rack.
A cartoon drunk with Xs for eyes.
She placed the flowers on the table
And felt the flaw on the vase’s neck:
A crack as fine as fishbone in glaze.
Even then she foresaw the crazes,
The fissures and cracks, the ruined piece.
For her mother’s wake, she walked the road,
Gathered bachelor’s buttons, queen anne’s lace,
And whatever else grew in the ditch.
The past, she knew, is like a fishhook—
Curved and barbed. It pierces and is set.
The mind is a vertiginous space:
The world beyond it anchored in mere shadow.
One longs for a poetry of flames
But instead hacks and hews,
And like a crying baby, mouth open,
Snatches and grasps at air.
How to render in words a presence
That crosses into absence, the erasures
The pentimenti does not reveal?
As if to explain the ambient light,
A serpentine creek of glacial-melt
Sloughs the quick fire of the auroras.
That rarified luminous matter,
(A surface phenomenon, a blurred tracing,
Like a smolder of sulfur, self-consumed—
Slow, cold, and otherworldly—)
As it distills salts from a dream,
Leaves a charged dust on one’s tongue.
Hearing a sounded bell tone continue
Into a range of ever-widening, ever-lengthening waves
One is tempted to express something
About the infinite, but lost in a vibration
At the limit of hearing, one keeps quiet to hear
Into what otherwise might be called silence.
Eric Pankey is the author of many collections of poems, most recently Trace (Milkweed Editions 2013) and Dismantling the Angel (Free Verse Editions 2013). He is Heritage Chair in Writing at George Mason University.