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Christopher Bakken

Three Poems

 

First Objects

Ö unstoried, artless, unenhanced.

The moment we set off on the ocean,

steering pine boxes with nothing but faith,

we became ideas, the bas-relief

of an army the gods set in motion,

hardened with an integument of gold.

Dandelion, limestone, free enterprise.

A hurricane of glass beads and horseflies.

Things we believed at the dreadful thresholds

of canyons. All too grand. Steeple, chimney,

tower, sky: erections proved our destiny

to contract the size of the hemisphere.

We might have stayed put, but couldnít bear

the sense that we were rising, calm as geese

caught between the sights of a shotgun.

 

Eclogue (4)

You managed to swell the conversation, plying

me with grog and a platter of blue-throated mushrooms.

Then I was awakened by the call of Silenus,

his frantic dirge from Thrace refracted through the leaves

of a pistachio treeóeach branch smoldered

while we stared, then blossomed into a swarm of eyes.

 

I was awakened again, but didnít hear you

wish you lived far enough from the world, wish some

hermit wisdom epigrammed the pages of your book.

But you wonít write an anchoriteís healing Bible;  

your dreams spring from our common trenches of ash

and graveyards greener than green has a right to be.

 

I was awakened again, but didnít hear you

since all I heard fell open like a broken gate:

I was dumbfounded by the hammering

clatter our lambs made when they plummeted to earth

--no one else could bear to see the semaphoric

epic they bleated out in their dying.

 

I was awakened once more when the skyís atlas

scrawled its noise on the basin of my skull and five

armies marched between us, fighting over seeds

we spit.  Three distinct excuses made them shell

the empty goat-pens, but I didnít learn them.

Their pyres singe the edges of our poetry.

 

Outside everywhere, we see as far as vultures,

what history canít, invent an anthem to survive.

Since thereís nothing beyond the rise, past the verge

of our vineyard, we invite nothing in, fix it

with our cairns, with our tangled wire and fence posts,

and allow ourselves the luxury of that lie.

 

Eclogue (5)

Now the season comes when the birds fall,

their migrations bewildered by missiles.

They litter our lawns without saying a word.

 

Thus every feverish apathetic

earns cash to buy his suburban beer:

we all must keep the country clean.  So much

 

that is common has become uncommon.

Our pastures are supernaturally

green.  The dirt itself is dying of health,

 

pleasing only the Emperorís right eye. 

From where we sit, our view is all volcano,

spurting with impossible crudeness.

 

The sacred bees, tired of mining essence

from thyme, swarm the public statuary

to vibrate the marble groin of Caesar.

 

Once, the cattle stopped chewing when we sang;

insightful goats wobbled from the mountain,

spurred by Pan and the promise of acorns.

 

Now that nature mocks us, we say farewell

to the oracles and caryatids

in favor of an awkward, backward bliss,

 

clip the hedge between dissent and despair,

no more unruly than a clutch of lambs,

yet company, somehow, to the vulgar.

 

Our distress is merely metaphysical,

we often wish, an inconvenience

we constitute, in spite of ourselves,

 

by continuing stubbornly to live.

So we pound out, with little sticks and stones,

the lewdest music: singing with our mouths shut.

 


Christopher Bakken won the 2001 T.S. Eliot Prize in Poetry for his first book, After Greece.  His new poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Raritan, Southwest Review, Gettysburg Review, and The Atlanta Review.

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