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Stephen Knauth


In our little patch at nightfall
the doomed ones have their say.
They have their song, and die.

Come, memory, my bread,
silver grains melting at the mind's edge.
Childhood is a planet.

Its golden ruins, a star.

It's snowing hard in Allegheny County.
It is always snowing then. Brown ice
on the Monongahela. Three rivers,

two tunnels, one fate to elude.
Already the snow has buried the scout tent entirely.
Inside, a boy huddles, listening.

He hears the flakes' ghostly murmuring,
hears and obeys. Feels a dread
joy unfolding.

All night, memory says, the snow
continued. Memory says the boy
emerged from his cocoon,

his new body steaming in the yard.

Come, intensify the fallen light.
We know the core of the Earth
spins faster than its surface,

not unlike the human heart,
which seems to always arrive
before the rest of us. Not unlike

our ability to receive, after loss,
the smallest songs in the ivy, ones
we never knew were there,

signals from beyond the band.

Remember—I do—the backs of the necks
of the men in the Sunday congregation?
Prickly, puckered, bloated fruit.

Mute sermon I still recall, telling
what faith cannot forestall. I stared,
sang when my father gripped my kneecap.

Sang about the blessed child, and the blessed
day—a mighty fortress of bristling necks—
and when the Host came round, I ate, One.

At the door, heading for their cars,
I turned and saw their faces, saw the lamb
and the wolf entwined. I saw

and took my father's hand.

All of us here together,
fragile carbon-based forms of life,
gathered together in the evening breeze,

another millennium winding down,
pear tree, field cricket, middle-aged man
kindling memory, slowly opening

each of ten thousand silver cages.
Multitudinous cries of desire
rising and falling, steady hum

that keeps the planet turning.

Through the back door crack we could
see them, garish faces suspended
like bulbs in soil. Iron City,

Black Label, whose light suffices.
Through the smoldering crack
we saw, then scattered.

Fathers at the Green Lantern,
their faces different.
Floating, floating,

freed of their stems.

Strike a pack of matches for the poplars in the west.
For the smoke not the flame.
Winter not fall.

Ridge from which Pittsburgh
was a smudge and a glint
thirty raw miles away.

Snow, it was
snow that made us build God,
brick by brick, of words.

We had iron fathers
melted by gin,

Even then the dim
light of a sickroom
leaked from their eyes.

That hill, Gilfillan's
farm, flush of our bodies
the only color for miles.

in their places,
each black atom carved by a patient hand.

The years, unspooling,
always snag
on those pale trees.

The war just over,
another coming on.
Clemente in right field.

Vernon Law on the mound.
Looks good, looks good,
Dad would say.

But my tongue had turned to ore.

Alone in the darkened yard
a grainy ray of moonlight breaks through the pear trees,
softly striking the knuckles of my left hand:

old chapped yellow hills.
From far away. From around the farthest bend.
My hand glows at the receiving end

of an ancient third-party transaction.
I open my palm and begin to read—
you already know.

I want to lie down and can't.
I sit, holding the moon by its fragile stem,
remembering clearly, as the pears dip and straighten,

the sound of my mother's voice calling from deep in the house.

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