Robert McDonald

Five Prose Poems



When the leaves run across the dri­ve­way, their scut­ter­ing becomes the con­tents of my lat­est mem­o­ran­dum.  I ought to explain that in this mat­ter I am licensed to act for the com­mit­tee of ghosts who inhab­it the farm­house on the hill.  None of us are elect­ed, every­one vol­un­teers: the spir­it that pos­sess­es the rat snake bask­ing on the porch, the kind­ly old man, intan­gi­ble, who lives in the base­ment, down among the bricks of the orig­i­nal foun­da­tion. He might be the father, or the hus­band, of the woman who some­times sits invis­i­bly at the foot of your bed, but he’s ret­i­cent enough not to say. We often con­vene in the orchard, after mid­night. The thud as ear­ly apples drop; that is one state­ment. The cough of a white-tailed deer is an argu­ment, while the quick­ly silenced shriek of a rab­bit, as it feels itself lift­ed in the talons of the owl, I believe that was the min­utes of our last meeting.


Much the Same Countenance

One day I heard that the piano tuner had died—walking pneu­mo­nia com­pli­cat­ed by decades of heavy smok­ing, although the piano tuner was still a young man. I’d struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with him over drinks one night, and might have seen him again, except that he was com­ing to the end of his school­ing, and was soon mov­ing back to the city of his birth, unless, as he said, some­one gave him a rea­son to stay, like love, he said, or mon­ey. But I was broke, and also just begin­ning to fall in love with some­one else, and the piano tuner did not press his case.  Via email he told me that he learned his tools, he prac­ticed his tun­ing, and he prac­ticed his pieces.  I nev­er heard him play.  After he died, I tried to imag­ine his slen­der fin­gers, his charm­ing stut­ter, and the expres­sion on his face when he played a favorite and dif­fi­cult selec­tion, much the same coun­te­nance as a per­son lost in the act of love.


Don’t Mention the Moon

The ink-stained desk at which all his poems had been writ­ten resent­ed poet­ry, it dis­liked ink, and had no use for wine­glass rings on the wood, or the caus­tic splash­es of whiskey.  But it was a desk, and so had lit­tle to say about poet­ry or any­thing else, and lived its wood­en life in the hope that some­one oth­er than a poet, a pre­mier, for exam­ple, or a CEO, would one day sit down and sign a check, or ini­tial an order to invade a coun­try, any­thing but the love-sick mut­ter­ings or impo­tent phras­ings the desk had per­force grown so resigned to house. “Just don’t men­tion the moon today,” thought the desk. “For once don’t sit here and write about the moon.”


A Dash of Nutmeg

She decid­ed to drink the milk. Even if it rest­ed in a wood­en bowl, like some kind of offer­ing that farm­ers in Cornwall would leave out for the wee folk. Even if the milk had come from a goat.  Goat’s milk dis­turbed her: if you drank milk from a goat, why not milk from a rab­bit, say, or a cat? Yes, the Persian had a nice smoky fla­vor.  The Siamese milk goes real­ly well with fish.  Dog’s cheese is best with bologna and white bread. Chimp milk is best for rais­ing chim­panzees, or super­heros.  The milk of human kind­ness?  More com­mon than one might think.  She adds a spoon­ful of hon­ey, a dash of nut­meg, and car­ries the bowl to her bed­side table.


You Thin Belgian Men

Is it even fair to men­tion the beau­ty of young men on the train in the city? They’re like trees, or like deer, that slen­der­ness and strength of limb, those eyes: a deer who does not know where it might set­tle in the for­est for its uneasy sleep. Trees in the for­est grow, like new antlers on a deer. Young men in a for­est should be lithe and swift, like deer. Whitman thought he could lie down with the ani­mals. I imag­ine him pil­low­ing his Santa Claus head on the flank of a pan­icked deer. To descend into dark­ness on the sub­way train is to reac­quaint your­self with desire. Oh hip­ster boys of Brooklyn, I should like to nap next to you on sec­ond-hand cush­ions. You thin Belgian men just a few years out of art school, you would not run from me, you would loi­ter, saunter, light one final cig­a­rette before extend­ing your arms and pro­claim­ing them branch­es. Between the sil­ver tree trunks, a stag snorts, (such a dog-like sound). The stag glances at me, long enough for me to love its stur­dy and frail beau­ty, and then it bounds, becomes a shad­ow indis­tin­guish­able from any oth­er shad­ow, men and harts and the hunt among the trees.


Robert McDonald’s poet­ry and prose have appeared in Sentence, Court Green, and Escape Into Life, among many oth­er jour­nals and zines. He lives in Chicago, works in an inde­pen­dent book­store, and blogs at