Mark Wagenaar: “Winter Song”


In the sound of pellet snow falling
on still-green leaves, magnolia & oak,
I hear ten thousand brushes on the high hat,

someone whispering for Elijah,
                                                   time scraping ghost towns
from the map.
I hear the last percussive rasp
of the song cut off
                                                   by the bone saw’s cry
yesterday in the slaughterhouse.

A vanished song for the vanished,
one for the windows of ice
the wind’s cleared from the snow

on the reservoir. Lakeside,
I catch myself thinking the patches
are all the nights we won’t get back—
if I look long enough
                                                   I’ll see a face I loved.
I don’t know who I’m waiting for.

Childhood friends, old loves.
Maybe my grandfather’s face,
unmarked by death.

Maybe the pages of my life’s history
in the unreadable scrawl
of the town drunk will appear

in the onyx glass,
color of the night hours
that find my grandmother awake
                                                   belted to her insomnia.
Give it time. Soon the faces
will begin to surface

like coins, like a well
giving up its wishes. And when they do,

they’ll have no more to say
than we do, when I ask them
what this morning is the empty

throat of, what happens to all
flesh, or just what the question is,
                                                   if our passing’s the answer.

Mark Wagenaar is the 2016 winner of Red Hen Press’s Benjamin Saltman Prize for his forthcoming book Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining. His first two collections of poetry are The Body Distances (A Hundred Blackbirds Rising) and Voodoo Inverso, which won the University of Massachusetts Press’s Juniper Prize and the University of Wisconsin Press’s Pollak Prize, respectively. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from The New Yorker, 32 Poems, Field, Southern Review, Image, and many others. He is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Valparaiso University.

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