Max Roland Ekstrom ~ Five Poems

Taxidermy Rug

Atop a pile of base­ment boxes
the black fur drapes in repose
as its jaws widen with ivory canines
and a ramp of pink tongue lead­ing nowhere—
cold eyes gaze across the stiff licorice
snout of a pre­cious teddy.
The hunter won’t recall this kill—
in a nurs­ing home he lies cut
off from those big woods
as his unflinch­ing hands
wring them­selves of memory.


Home Altars

In the base­ment beneath the hi-fi cabinet
two icons lean against crates of com­pact discs.
Crafted by my daugh­ter, her choice of fake gems—
rubies, eight-point­ed stars, swelling hearts—
bejew­el the plaque­boards of Jesus and Mary.
He glis­tens in anti­sep­tic resignation,
flex­ing his abs against the staples.
Farther off, where stray blocks
and jig­saw pieces con­script with dust,
drapes a yel­low­ing land­scape scroll I bought
in Chinatown when young, long stashed
down here out of the way—once more I
eye the car­tooned gentleman,
hair bobbed, robes plait­ed, legs folded,
dwarfed by the water­fall cut from swollen fists
of rock which reach out into a vast verticality,
free from cities, free from people—
though his inclu­sion in the scene only proves
how often, through the years, I had hoped
to switch my place with his.


Wood Piles

Out in our yard squir­rels have freed
the tarp cov­er­ing the old wood pile
brown­ing in the suc­ces­sion of seasons;
its lich­ened ribs betray the youth
with which it was stacked—
we were back then more eager to burn—
you built as I gibed encouragement
though I have seen such piles fade before.
When I was a boy I found at the edge
of a field fire­wood sprout­ing monstrously
amongst the giant legs of the forest,
catch­ing rib­bons of sky as it
sunk back into the substrate.
I lay down where the leaves were driest
and felt as if at the base of the sea.



In the gar­den of heav­en once grew
every shade of tulip and every form of lotus,
every type of dahlia that now has no name.
Before all names, Satan wandered
in this jun­gle search­ing and thinking,
aware only at the edge of sleep
that his mind was not his own.
To him appeared images
of sick­ness, pain, and pestilence;
of frat­ri­cide, of fire underground—
before the cre­ation of the earth
when the soul’s eter­nal breath
passed over unend­ing ocean,
Satan med­i­tat­ed, eye with­in eye
for a hun­dred thou­sand years
dream­ing of Woman, of her every hair,
and of Man, and his every inch.



Sailing after Yeats to Byzantium, I dis­cov­er him lis­ten­ing to the masons sing while they build a church. Christ is new, the Eastern teach­ings of the body are not yet mys­ter­ies, they are as real as wine or sex or tears. Jesus is spo­ken of as a friend, like a breeze cross­ing the foun­da­tions. Across the street men cop­u­late in the baths and emerge to con­tin­u­a­tion of the craftsmen’s song. Before dusk Yeats walks with Iseult toward the shore and they are in love. He knows I am watch­ing. He knows I can­not believe what I am feel­ing, that we have met before, in the neighbor’s gar­den when I was very young.


Max Roland Ekstrom holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. His poet­ry appears in such jour­nals as The Hollins Critic, Hubbub and The Comstock Review, and is anthol­o­gized in Except for Love: New England Poets Inspired by Donald Hall. Max lives in Vermont with his wife and three children.