Christopher Buckley: Three Poems

Featured Poet:

Christopher Buckley


Walk home every day from school
in re-soled shoes when there’s ice
on the poles, and clean air
in San Fernando Valley,
          50 years ago. . . .
Look over your shoulder where
Sister Vincent de Paul said
St. Michael and his flaming sword
would be watching, making sure.
Tell us what you see?

Fall asleep in front of Walter Cronkite
on the Evening News, Dorothy Kilgallen
and Kitty Carlisle on What’s My Line—
you won’t be missing much . . .
John Cameron Swayze, pitchman
for Timex, will remind you that
it keeps on ticking . . . .
          The sky shows
its shelf wear no matter where you are.
Whistle “Amazing Grace.”
           Fill your lungs.

This is no country—as the old man said—
for old men. The birds—those that are left—
have flown. Find the clouds you cherished
growing up—no loopholes left, no way out. . . .
Search the stars, reread the hard-edged
imbedded clauses, small print, illegible
scatter of notes in the margins—
           come away
with nothing, a prerequisite to the past,
to the next handful of hendecasyllabics
in support of war.
           Greet the boys
in the back room in their pin-striped suits,
cracking wise, tossing back gimlets, making
energy deals, pay-offs, sending out dividends
from Sanctified Oil. . . .
           Forget Plato,
forget the flicker of images skipping
against the wall where you were 5 years old
among the tide pools, your parents’
shell-white Pontiac parked on Cliff Drive,
almost no traffic pushing back the air. . . .

Never mind the poor, the neighbors you know.
Proceed as if no one’s lied to you, as if
it’s axiomatic that the next cortege of particles
will sing back the atomic mix ad infinitum.
Exhale slowly now as the tide slips back
unconsciously after each dulled wave.
Stretch. Your last breath is out there,
coming out of the long suffering blue.
Wait for it. . . .


I didn’t die young
           on Arthur Street,
                      amid the heat
and creosote,
           despite tearing through my 20s,
and disappearing
           in the tower district half the night
beneath the wandering arithmetic
                      of stars. . . .
I refused to leave
           my disappointments in the streets,
the way working
           in my rose bed
                      the canes snagged
my jeans every time I turned around.
My hope most days
                      was for a few anapests of wind
in the sycamores and Chinese elms
                      stationed as I was
by a swamp cooler
           with sun tea
                      and a yellow pad,
a palimpsest of dog-eared idioms
                      and ideas
and not one note of inspiration
                      from the jay
in the Mulberry tree
                      as he blurted his demands. . . .
I moved
           half a dozen times for jobs,
                      forgiving myself
an inability to suffer
                      committees, prigs in blazers
and striped ties—
           made it back to the coast
                      where long ago
I’d given my blood to the seas,
                      or they’d given theirs to me . . .
the analects
           of salt still as useless
                      as the surf grumbling
along the sea wall,
           evening walking away
                      in its grey bones,
oblivious. . . .
Each night
           an on-shore breeze comes up
                      from the beach,
the syllables of the dark behind it.
                      Mist drifts down
the channel—
           time passes through the world, dust
settles on our eye glasses
                      reminding us of the fractures
in the sky.
           My conversations with clouds
                      never came
to anything
           more than silence
                      moored on the outskirts
of air,
           some doves muttering among the palms. . . .
It would have been nice
           to disregard the winds
                      that refused
to carry my complaints,
           my coat pockets still heavy with them
as I patrolled the harbor
           watching boats drift in
                      or leave. . . .
Tonight, looking out to the scars of light
                      we guess by,
I think the problem could be
                      that the birds I spoke to
all these years had no reply—
                      the problem could be
we were not imperishable. . . .


The channel fog . . .
its dull transition
across water, is like
the confusion in dreams,
every blue star flung
past where you stand . . .
what are we, really,
ever going to know?

I gave up trying
to make the figures
add up decades ago,
but feel, absolutely,
the subtraction
in my bones—
one more complaint
to carry to a bench
where I can comfortably
appreciate the salt spray
spiking at the point,
briney hosannas
riding an up-draft
from the beach
where I was once 16
and transfigured
inside a head-high tube,
electrons and soaked
nerve endings sparking
between my fingertips
and lip of the wave,
blood shouting
hallelujahs as I shot
through bottle-green
space, living on little
more than sunlight
and Pepsi Cola. . . .

I was never thinking
about angels, levitation,
voices all the way
removed from stars.
I can only attest
to the indecipherable
scribbling above
the outline of the trees
at dusk, the dry leaves,
just these few remnants
of joy and the benefits
due me from the air
along the coast
where I still do
what I can to connect
the dots trailing
off into the blue,
into what little I know
from experience
is sure on earth. . . .

I suppose it was
reasonable to look up
and hope for something,
uncommitted as I was
to the inevitable,
content to just praise
the continuing resolution
of my breath,
the hearsay of the heart.

Safe now to sit out here,
no rain for years . . .
the cypress have
thrown up their hands
and surrendered,
but I’m not there yet.
Feet on the ground,
I keep turning over
an underemployed sky,
a lifetime of blind guesses,
rounding off my chances
to the nearest zero,
looking out across
the swells to find
that’s pretty much
what’s left.

Christopher Buckley’s recent books are Star Journal: Selected Poems, University of Pittsburgh Press (2016), Agnostic, Lynx House Press (2019), and The Pre-Eternity of the World, forthcoming from Stephen F. Austin State University Press (January 2021). He has recently edited The Long Embrace: 21 Contemporary Poets on the Long Poems of Philip Levine, Lynx House Press, and Naming the Lost: The Fresno Poets—Interviews & Essays, Stephen F. Austin State Univ. Press (both due Fall 2020).

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