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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