Issue 1:2 | Poetry | James Owens



My son, one year into the goddamned abattoir we call history, stumbles
up 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 yard
battled and scratched for crumbs, and even then, spying on the sad remnants
of what used to be nature, I matched his laughter with something like fear.
A squad of five big fish, the size of school kids, patrols
the 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 baby
with gasoline, just for fun, and it isn't even unusual, there isn't a whole damn lot
of closure, except that he drops a match into the big gasp of flame.

Morning again. Wind. Shadows
of 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.

A 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 green
of hemlocks grows rich against maples.
Both seem unnaturally clear,
as if they are trying hard to be seen
before 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 anger
like a knife in his pocket.
If he unclasps it, there could be blood,
which might, he understands, well up
in the wound and look most like relief.
He tries to think about other things,
comforted by knowing consciousness
and the world are all metaphor:
night's leaky faucet drips darkness into the basin of sky.
Or flakes of darkness gust
and skirl down the wind, sticking on the sun's hat.
And where would darkness be without him,
without language's shambling lust
toward death, "darkness" being another noun
for 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 foot
to the lip of the cliff,
opens its back into wings that whir and disappear,
then arcs out on the dimming air.
James Owens