David Salner ~ Four Poems

A Meditation on the Land
remem­ber­ing a farm foreclosure.
                                        For Darrell Ringer, 1953–93

Thank you,” he said, while the black eyes
drilled from the shad­ow of his ballcap
as we stood in the sun­baked square
of a Kansas town where we’d just rallied
against such busi­ness as no one with honor
should dare to defend—then drove
over pocked macadam, between shoulders
cas­cad­ing with pur­ple wild flow­ers, wheat
turn­ing green to gold—the field after field,
the rich car­pet called forth, turned over,
culled with such care that I, for one,
don’t have blis­ters enough to imagine—
and beneath it the black earth seethes
with world-feed­ing life. Then we arrived
at his farm. Beautiful, I’d often thought,
this life, how the green soy­bean hug
at the earth and alfal­fa explodes into pink
and ani­mals trudge toward us in the slow-
motion rhythm of pad­dock-bound shadows
until their heads hike up with quick interest
when hay­bales are pitched with a thud
between the tar­nished steel rails of the crib.
But the earth and its moods are uncertain,
despite the dis­con­so­late plead­ing it gets
when sleep doesn’t come, that a storm
please pass by with­out flood­ing at harvest;
that a drought not set in, the wind not whisk
top­soil to a pow­der-dry ash float­ing off
in a glit­ter-filled cloud to the red
of a sum­mer-long sun. And of course
words are addressed to the Notice of Debt
that’s attached like a leech to the title,
which is after all a mere sheet of paper
approved by the courts but without
the least smell of wet dirt to grace it.
And of all he fore­saw or was faced with,
what he couldn’t agree to was los­ing this land
with­out even a fight. They might take it all,
but the fight, at least—they couldn’t take that.


Ghost Town Nocturne

We knew we’d nev­er return.
Before the weeds grew tall, we knew,

before the rich dirt buried the town, we knew.
Buried all who once lived there, includ­ing two lovers

who always came late for work, because to the question
what lends mean­ing to life—work or love—they’d already

arrived at an answer, and it was com­pelling. And this meaning,
which they embraced so tight they could feel its heartbeat—

this meaning—its cadence and flood—they meant to preserve
like a fruit in the sweet­ness of time. And after­wards, the sigh,

not so much for a moment lost for­ev­er but for its fullness.
And their total absorp­tion in each oth­er, the baf­fling minutes

after­wards when they stared amazed, ask­ing almost in unison,
what are you thinking—a pen­ny for your thoughts. One moment,

sly teenagers, too know­ing to admit to any such won­der, the next,
die-hard believ­ers in love. Until their cell phones screamed out

hur­ry for work! Which required no small sense of purpose
and great strength for the toil­some moment of tearing-away.

But mak­ing it on time was not real­ly of last­ing concern,
since his work­place first, then hers, went out of business

when the roll-downs slammed hard and fast to the tarmac.
Then a silence in which you could have heard a pin if it

dropped in a tub of cur­dled milk for­got­ten on a sideboard
while the town emp­tied out. And if you went back now—

and I say you because I nev­er will—you might find a lone­ly street
and a ram­shackle porch where you could lis­ten for that one

moment, the pre­cise musi­cal mea­sure that flick­ers like the light of a star
from a long way off, like a sound you can hear, bare­ly, before it’s lost—

from the begin­ning of time or the end of it. Or from the instant
two lovers shared as they surged in the quick­ness of time.


Your Fugitive Life

A truck zooms by, the sound of the engine
ris­ing, then falling into the distance
of your long-lost life. Will you wake up
back in the win­dow­less cell, alone and without
wife or girl­friend to vis­it you? Or in a new life,
the old name, the old trade­marks and labels
washed off, the crud of a life­time scrubbed clean
by the breath­tak­ing rush of your escape?

Learn how to hide in plain sight. First of all,
dis­card old habits, which mark you as sure as a fingerprint.
Throw them off track by vis­it­ing muse­ums instead of old haunts
like pool hall and dog track; on Sundays, read the Times in a cof­fee shop.
Your new name, your alias, will work fine, but put flesh on the bones
by bor­row­ing facts from peo­ple you’ve known. Like Groundhog,
your friend with the nickname—steal a few items from his identity,
like the divorce, and the daugh­ters he can’t see
because of that stu­pid argu­ment with his wife. You don’t need to say
what it was about, just mut­ter under your breath when the top­ic comes up.
And remem­ber they’re your daugh­ters, she’s still your wife.
But the nickname—that would stand out. Besides,
you’re not real­ly a “ground­hog,” no round­ed shoulders,
no eye tooth. Disguise and invent, mix col­ors like a painter, but always
blend in. A good tip: car­ry a keyring wher­ev­er you go, although
you don’t own a car or home, not even a lock
for tool­box or bike. Keep your lies straight. Smile forthrightly
as if you have noth­ing to hide, espe­cial­ly when you chat up
a boss or a cop. You’ll have to work under the table, which means
no checks from wel­fare or unem­ploy­ment. Or Social Security,
which wouldn’t amount to much any­way. No dri­vers’ license,
no image of your face, which looks quite dis­tin­guished now
with bifo­cals, which now you’re old­er you can’t read without,
and the new salt and pep­per beard. Give it some gus­to. It’s almost fun
once you’ve learned to lie to your­self. Still, it might hurt.
You’d like to see your daugh­ters. By now, the old­est is grown.


L’amante Impaziente

Beethoven com­posed L’amante impaziente
to a lyric by Trepassi, a less­er court poet,
which means he had to put up with—my,
that was gor­geous; dar­ling, I couldn’t
agree more with… a superfluity
from the rich and famous in exchange
for a place at a tru­ly mag­i­cal table
includ­ing star­pow­er, a few snide jokes,
and a dessert of but­tery bis­cuits topped
with sweet lemon driz­zle or Florentines
in dark Perugian choco­late, take your pick
or enjoy it all. But let’s leave aside
the court and its favors; the dubi­ous merit
of the rich and famous; not to mention
that Beethoven him­self for all we know
was in love with Florentines—leave all
that aside and lis­ten to the music as it
strives for rich notes of long­ing, a cadence
of frus­trat­ed yearn­ing. For aren’t we all—
poets, artists, musi­cians, work­ers of every
stripe and persuasion—aren’t we all
lovers? aren’t we all impatient?


David Salner has worked all over the coun­try as an iron ore min­er, steel­work­er, machin­ist, bus dri­ver, cab dri­ver, gar­ment labor­er, long­shore­man, teacher, and librar­i­an. His work appears in Threepenny Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, North American Review, Ploughshares, and many oth­er mag­a­zines. His fourth vol­ume of poet­ry is The Stillness of Certain Valleys. His debut nov­el A Place to Hide was released by Apprentice House Press, 2021. Innisfree Poetry Journal did a ret­ro­spec­tive of Salner’s writ­ing that fea­tured more than twen­ty poems (cur­rent issue, Issue 33).