John A. Nieves: "Historiography"



     “I can’t imagine her back.”

          —Larry Levis


The slip is quick—

goosebumps pepper your neck,

then maybe you had a chill.

Just like that: conjecture. Just like

that, the wavering catches

in the throat as diction replaces

definition. I say you

to you as if you couldn’t remember

yourself against a backdrop

of black walnut trees or under

a crumbling concrete gazebo.

How can you be in range of both

this whisper and phantom limb?


Cave drawings only work

in caves—amplified by the sanctity

of hollow hills, of firm places

to hide. Exposed, they are childlike

and impressionist like your bangs

after a quick rain, so innocently caught

trying to say something they have

no language for. Panorama

is key. If there are shadows, we can

not question the shadows. I have bitten

my lip as the sun slid off and left

us both contingencies, both a hint

of something on the other’s breath.


This morning, you were thumbing

a book like you were hitching a ride

and the cover said history—actually,

not figuratively, and I looked down

and couldn’t be sure we were there. I stroke

the keys and hear the plastic symphony

of depression in quick succession. I am

writing you out of history so I have

a chance to remember your thumb

on the spine, the old gold binding

leaning brown, the half-smile

that only teased of present tense.



John A. Nieves has poems forthcoming or recently published in journals such as Southern Review, Indiana Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New York Quarterly, Ninth Letter, Poetry Northwest and Cincinnati Review. He won the 2011 Indiana Review Poetry Prize and the 2010 Southeast Review AWP Short Poetry contest.