Eric Pankey

Six Poems


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.


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.


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!


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.