V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




Scythe moon, blade cleaving sky, body
mostly hidden, but present, large

and undeniable as the white disc of pain
being hammered so it burns with friction

at the end of his spine's frayed string.
Earlier, he sat in a bar with no clocks

and naked girls onstage, drinking bourbon
he gets free for figuring the owner's taxes.

Blurred by whiskey and pain, the bodies
in front of him appeared untouched and mysterious

as the moon. He envied the loose flow of muscle
in one girl who spun upside down on the pole,

legs scissoring air, the plane of her back
rippling the way wind bends a field's high grass,

ancestor to the ocean that once shifted
above the fields that make an island

of his empty house. There are creeks he wades
to find teeth, bits of vertebrae, remains

of what came inland and died.
Years of addition, subtraction, moving decimals have

taught him no sum is final, that all
value remains relative. Sleepless, he stares

at tonight's infinite moon while memory slips
from the girl in the bar to a circus acrobat

he saw when he was eight or nine, who seized
the end of a rope in her teeth and was raised

in a spotlight's dusty glare, above
the suddenly silent crowd until she hung,

the only thing illuminated in all the dark tent.
The moon-hard bend in her back, an arch

strong enough to support bridges, city gates,
mocks his clumsy bending, the muscles fisted

across his back before he straightened,
all the planets of his spine slipped out of favor.

Balance eroded, the way riverbanks give
in floods, shelves of sand and gravel dissolved

into a million rumbling fragments.
His plan had been to get home, creep inside

careful as a tightrope walker and collapse
into a heating pad and pain pills,

but the electricity was off, the bills
and past due notices all neglected

in the three months since she moved out,
life emptied of sex, soft kisses, warm kitchen smells.

So he drove from a house slowly being filled by dark
to a bar that has no name to watch girls

chewing gum, sporting their first tattoos, dance,
incandescent with speed, eyes locked onto heavens

more distant than the moon he sees cradled
outside his uncurtained window. When every eye

was fixed on her, when no cough or cry
broke the tent's deep quiet, the woman

hanging from the rope began to turn,
slowly, then faster, until her body was

a spangled blur, perfect in its distance.
The moon's talent is subtraction: trees carved

to shadow, stones shaved to a gleaming edge.
Grass lies slicked to oil-black essence.

The fingernail of moon that divides the sky
makes it whole, the way a creek's dark sand gains

context from housing history's mute remnants.
He could have shown one of those nameless girls

the star-pale scar between two knuckles,
fossil of the night he tried to make visible

the heart's silent rage. Blood fell
like absolution that would not come,

and he understood that no number and no pain
will ever be final. The woman who left

will call, her voice so distant she might live
in the shell he takes from the table to feel

its cold curve. His back will be straight by then,
his house filled with light, her absence

simply one mark in the debit column
of a ledger with no permanent balance.

The moon will wane and swell above
dumb waves of dirt while the dancing goes on.

And on some nights, like this one, the bar's owner
will stare out his office window, considering

the sign his accountant suggested he buy
and the name he might give this place.


© by Al Maginnes


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