Issue 1:2 | Poetry | James Owens
MEMORIAL DAY TRIP: WE VISIT THE TENNESSEE STATE
AQUARIUM AFTER TOURING CHICKAMAUGA BATTLEFIELDMy son, one year into the goddamned abattoir we call history, stumblesup to the glass wall, gives it an open-handed slap, and says, "Bird."The fish fly past, glassed inches from his rapture and blessing.I have held him at the window, mornings when robins and jays in the yardbattled and scratched for crumbs, and even then, spying on the sad remnantsof what used to be nature, I matched his laughter with something like fear.A squad of five big fish, the size of school kids, patrolsthe aquarium, faces flat, intent as stoic drill instructors,cutting a path around the room of concentrated undersea,above the twisted forms of coral, eels, stonefish, little live darting things,a bewilderment of colors and shapes, structure that splits and ramifies.Ben thumps the glass again, squeals, as if it's the biggest joke in the world, "Bird!"And it ought to end there. We all crave closure.But my son doesn't know that somewhere in the world I've urged him into,people are hacking other people apart, one of the troops soaks a babywith gasoline, just for fun, and it isn't even unusual, there isn't a whole damn lotof closure, except that he drops a match into the big gasp of flame.
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL LANDSCAPEMorning again. Wind. Shadowsof clouds trench and fill the fallow ground.A difficult light staggers across the stubble.Crows drag their saws toward the trees.Everybody knows they exaggerate their torments.If you begin with "I remember..."you must translate "the foot's worn threshold..."Reader whom I will never see again,the sun throws its hooks into the frost,and wind is dialogue—the light comes and goes,comes and goes.
POEM AWARE OF THEORY, BUT TIREDA man sits on a cliff at the head of a small valley,watches wind pilfer a few red leaves.Sun is setting behind him.He drinks water from a canteen.In this ancient light, the wet greenof hemlocks grows rich against maples.Both seem unnaturally clear,as if they are trying hard to be seenbefore the ridge's shadow darkens them,though they aren't trying anything.He has been hiking all day,sifting the dust of exhaustion into his joints.He carries a woman's angerlike a knife in his pocket.If he unclasps it, there could be blood,which might, he understands, well upin the wound and look most like relief.He tries to think about other things,comforted by knowing consciousnessand the world are all metaphor:night's leaky faucet drips darkness into the basin of sky.Or flakes of darkness gustand skirl down the wind, sticking on the sun's hat.And where would darkness be without him,without language's shambling lusttoward death, "darkness" being another nounfor what isn't really there—like "red," or, sometimes, "love"?Too tired for sorting things out,he needs the raw good of image.So let's say some bug, fat as a toe and metallic green,crawls past his right footto the lip of the cliff,opens its back into wings that whir and disappear,then arcs out on the dimming air.James Owens