Jeff Mock, Three Poems





Feeling restless, the couple drove from the city

Out to a park to walk under the always—


Green of pine and fir.  They came, for a change,

To talk in the open air.  It was just winter,


But no snow had fallen.  Along a trail

They walked and talked and disagreed because


They were married but no longer in love.

The sky clouded.  They each thought that someone 


Was responsible.  They talked of changes that must 

Be made, but could not agree on what to change.





When they came to a fork, they argued about

Which trail to take.  Although the underbrush


Had shed, the evergreens argued for

Consistency.  It was winter.  The couple


Saw no birds, and they argued about

Which birds migrate, and whether for comfort 


Or sustenance.  The couple argued about

Returning to the city.  They walked farther


And listened to the silence.  The trail wound

Down to a small clearing and to a creek





With a short leap of a wooden bridge over it.

They stopped to argue more, whether to cross,


Whether any argument was worth

Keeping up.  They would have preferred some sound


Other than their own lone voices.  The silence

Irritated them—the silence, and nothing


To fill it but themselves.  So this was winter,

They agreed, the season of loss.  They agreed


That their plans had become, well, complicated.

Above them, the green branches swayed—a wind,





Then—and in the trash of leaves, millipedes

And stag beetles scurried.  A beetle crossed


Their path, and the woman gave a little cry

And shrank back.  The man crushed it beneath his heel. 


He put his arm around her then, but the clouds

Opened and the couple agreed to turn back.


And they did.  They turned back and in the silence

Heard the beetles feeding on the dead leaves.


She shivered, but they were going back now

To something unbroken and unfixable.








Once past the future, we will recall it just

As we would a luscious party to which we were


Not invited, and we will have forgotten

All the particulars: the martinis we took


Utterly dry, with only a splash of pretense;

Necklines that plunged so far they made us dizzy


With depths that would crush our spines and float our desires;

Platinum cufflinks encrusted with diamonds


Bright enough to light the Eastern seaboard...

And what a party it will have been.  Once past


The future, we will recall it just as it

Happened, but less so, so that it seems more


Than it could ever have been.  This forgetting

Will enhance the aura of all those years


We misspent well and thoughtlessly, just as

The morning haze will make extravagant


Each abstracted sunrise, so that every

Morning over the Atlantic, the great


Glow of our fortune will dawn on us anew.

And we will draw the curtains and re-array


Our dreams in our lush beds.  Whatever lay

Beyond the formal gardens, the topiary


Of swans and pyramids, martini glasses

And Doric columns, whatever we hid from


Ourselves, was a world not rarefied enough

For our palates.  We will dream only that


The future will have been precisely what

We believed it should be: the gin tasting divine,


Our naughty little lies of sumptuous conquests

Turning out—for all we will recall—


Wholly true, and outside, lost beyond

The flora, the outsiders will clamor and fume.


And so, now, far before our time, we presume

That one finger, beckoning, will call forth


Such pleasures that we may luxuriate

In that future we have already lived so well.








The grounds of the abandoned mansion grew

Crazed with Alba, the white rose.  The garden


Was all unmade with the weight and sway of such

Profusion.  The trellises were overwhelmed


By the canes that, freed from their unnatural

Constraints, climbed and flourished and climbed anew,


And the trellises themselves were nothing more

Than a quaint conceit.  All of it seemed


A cultivated chaos to them, the girl

And boy who had agreed to meet beneath


The elm near the hexastyle portico.

In its shade, the double doors swung on their hinges,


And the house seemed to breathe.  Its glassless eyes

Looked down on them and followed as they spread


A quilt that she had thought to bring.  They lay

Side by side, and said nothing.  All their words


Were in their fingertips.  It wasn’t yet

Noon.  It wasn’t yet the languorous heart


Of summer.  Perhaps all of that should have been

Enough: time to linger beneath the elm,





Time to touch, to hold hands within the view

Of that stately house that would one day fall


In on itself, time to kiss and know only

Part of what a kiss may mean.  Some day.


Speculation is useful for some: their parents,

Perhaps, the dour preacher of the Baptist church


Just down the road, the town gossip who sees

But does not perceive.  Still, one of them


—The girl or boy, it does not matter now—

Proposed that they explore the garden then


Because the roses seemed somehow to color

The air, a white velvet diaphanous


Haze that floated among the white blooms.

A bluestone walk led into it and vanished there


Beneath the garden’s excess.  Surely, they thought,

The walk must lead to somewhere they must go,


To someplace worth discovering.  The boy

Swept aside the first tangle of roses


And left a bit of blood on the thorns.  It was

Nothing, he said, and look, another stone.





The house had eyes on all its sides and watched,

It seemed to them, as the girl entered and,


In turn, swept aside the next tangle of Alba

And mewed at the scratches on her arm.


Her blood beaded in irregular patterns

And looked almost like the notes of a song,


A measure of whole notes, the melody

Of some simple love song.  He daubed her blood


With his bandana, and each then made a vow

That the other would suffer no more harm.


Well, we all make foolish promises,

No matter that harm will have its way.


Thus, their vows and hope followed them or

—Neither can recall exactly now—


Perhaps it led them on.  It would be easy

Now to say that they were young, unworldly,


That responsibility had not yet lined

Their faces, that duty was only a word,


That those vows had not yet weighed on them.

It would be easy to say that they should have





Turned back and remained youthful a while longer.

But what good is any advice in the bliss


Of ignorance?  As if any other bliss

Exists that heightens the senses so that


Even pain may feel something like pleasure.

Neither thought much of the cuts on their arms,


Nor of the small wellings of blood that gathered

Richly along each wound.  The house seemed not


To care, nor the ghosts within it who knew

More of human foibles than the girl


And boy could imagine.  They swept back the roses,

He then she.  Each shallow cut was another


Measure of the song written on their bodies.

They were an age when excess proved itself.


If this is what bliss demanded of them,

they would endure it together.  One noticed


That the roses, lovely as they were, had no

Scent.  The other snapped one from its stem


And said, Breathe deep.  Ahh.  It seemed to have opened 

Only for them, the white petals forming





What seemed infinite circles, one inside

Another, ring upon ring upon ring,


Years upon years.  Their flesh tingled.  Their thoughts

Tingled because their thoughts were flesh.  One caress


Does not suffice.  One kiss is not enough.

If the white of the roses and that of their intentions


Were of the same hue, it was not by chance:

All the world’s quirks were all significant.


And what might they find deep within the garden?

So they swept aside the knots of thorns


And for a while gloried in the cuts that each

Accepted for the other’s sake, their arms


And legs speckled with blood, their hands and cheeks.

Some might think them foolish, but not the ghosts


In the house that like all things would soon decay

And crumble and fall.  The girl and boy knew only


The impulse that pushed them on, assured, each

Believing that somewhere, wherever the path


Led them, lay the heart of the garden, and there 

They would lay themselves down and the pain would cease.



Jeff Mock is the author of Ruthless (Three Candles Press).  His poems appear in Atlantic Monthly, Georgia Review, Iowa Review, New England Review, North American Review, Shenandoah, Sewanee Review, Southern Review, and elsewhere.  He teaches in the MFA program at Southern Connecticut State University.