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Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




                    . . . in the smell of apples at the close of day.
                                        —Czeslaw Milosz

Papers stacked on the desk,
rising from the floor, occupying chairs,
kitchen table, countertops—
yellowed notes that untranscribed life:
                                     stubby woodcock
unperturbed crossing a snow-covered
February backroad, undone
by a late winter storm, plump belly
plowing along, its slow pumping gate
clownish with the overly long beak
of a landlocked, land-loving shorebird;
                   words yet to find sentences: Ophidian,
stygian, millefleur, paranomasia, Parousia, parsec,
                movies to see: Why has Bodhi-dharma
Left for the East, Latcho Drom, Gleaners
and I;
             quotes from here and there:
If you stick your head in a mortar,
it does no good to fear the sound
of the pestle. Destiny caresses a few
and molests others;
                               sweet red peppers,
eggplant, brown eggs, sage, fresh basil,
grocery lists too old to eat;
                                           what must be done
yesterday and tomorrow, today too full:
vacuuming, mopping, bills paid, bills to pay,
threats of repo, rejection, little praise;
                                                          the endless pleas:
whales, wolves, wolverines, weasels,
clean air, water, world;
                                     letters I meant to answer,
distant friends I've kept waiting, searching
for what I should have said long ago;
not finding what I remember,
I toss armfuls of loose papers
toward the ceiling, watching them fall
into another country,
                                              not like,
not unlike late morning,
March 16th, 1988, great clouds
of an artillery barrage stop, dust
kissing dust and lying down, the heat rising
to noon, the sky clear,
                         the whomp, whomp, whomp,
of a helicopter leaving footprints across
the city sky, stomping the tops of houses,
refining the rubble as soldiers lean
out the side doors—
                               there are those who say
they tossed prayer flags or confetti
or the severed wings of white doves
that would find no more
than a mourning perch, the white
wish of peace floating down the air,
white lilies, the big white lies
that we are told,
                         no, it's just paper,
maybe newspaper with old news
of the dead and dying doing it again,
maybe shredded memos and accounts
from the bureaus of Byzantine bureaucracies,
maybe pages of books liberated
from ancient stacks, read a last time
by scared birds, flocks of paper
drifting on the air, revealing the secret
shifting of the invisible,
                                     before the currents
of gas drove families into cellars
where they inhaled the odor of sweet apples,
their lunches of falafels long past—
it was spring
                   and leaves withered,
birds fell from trees, goats reared and died,
midday a subterranean fog
clung knee-high over the streets,
                            eyes burned to blindness,
flesh bubbled across backs, arms
vomiting, convulsions . . .
                                              it's how
the paperwork is done in Halabja,
how the names are recorded
on unread pages scarring the air.


© by Walter Bargen


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