L I T T L E T O M D A C R E I N H E A V E N
And through my tears
in the hereafter
I see my tears received below
on the arched back
of a chief of staff
dragging his skiff behind him
the incorporated limits
in his suit the color
of underground lakes.
Lo to feel as indifferent now
as the candy dispenser,
the unlit carport,
the blue flag sunk
in front of my old
but here too
I can touch my heart
to a knotted tree
and its murmuring
can be heard in the leaves
of an office plant
misted down on earth
by a man committing
lines of love to memory
in his green security jacket.
Child I was
who once sought guidance
at the whirlpool,
the colored milk
still in my bowl,
who was lifted
for inspection by command,
and when I was held
in the doctor’s arms
his ears were warm with blood
and I shielded my mouth
with a tear-shaped mint,
a spell to halt
the interrogating lamp
as he spun it
toward my face.
It was well-covering time.
We children were served
our salad greens
in centurion’s helmets
never to be worn again.
And the widow Bilgewater
was taking down our names
while we gathered and carried
her eyes as blank
as the backside
of the board of health
and the dark pools of rain
that gathered there,
and in them I saw:
the sleepers covering the hills with their bodies
a whalebone wrested from the tabernacle by thieves
a furniture outlet looted clean
a woodsman glancing over his shoulder
as he bit into a greasy heart
the piles of ash in the wilderness
the stinking ligatures on the helmsman’s neck
a sea full of in-flight magazines
a band of actuaries discarding their ties
to bark at the brown waterstain of the moon
until the mesh hood
was pulled down
over my naked head
and I woke up here.
H E A D I N T H E O R C H A R D
Why the hangman spared me I do not know.
He stood above me on the overpass
without a word, his eyes downcast and clear,
his wreath of sawgrass hung around his neck.
This in the time of the orchard full of fruit.
I looked at him, a worm within my feasting,
squinting through the scouring light
and while we did not break our stares
my blind hand shook behind me as I searched
my satchel for the axe. I freed its knot
and smelled the outbreath of the sap
and sunlight on the blade within
then cinched the cord again, that scent
now wasted on the world. I spared him too.
Half my life I’d spent sleeping in the sun,
the other under the orchard’s starlight
the roseate sun to seek. Here is the tree
to which I nailed my head, and northward,
the flattened field where I loosed my dogs,
my body borne behind them making tracks
the hangman could not read atop his ledge
although I know he did look down at me
once more, his forehead softened, hair salt-damp,
his bone-white cape whipping downwind.
O N Q U A L I T Y H I L L
Winter staggered along with its ass
under too hard a spell for it to shake,
and the pine re-entitlement programs
had been slashed. But thinking better
of the bald white ground, each tree
returned and bent itself back into place
just nearly straight enough to give us
our natural world and as well achieve
the state order for no delirium.
I admit beneath their branches
I have once or twice allowed myself
to trust their perfectly synchronized shadows.
On the blasted heaths of our backyards,
we let them shade our families
no more than an inch or two,
and before I know it I’m coming to
in the dooryard snorting noisily,
arms deep in prizes and outsize checks.
Take, for example, the official request
to forego the sonogram, simply to hope:
it appears not one of us is distressed.
Because no one handles tears like us
with our tricked-out horse’s sense
of pain. Our object is to be led
into a neater submission blue as a god.
[Peter Mishler’s new poems are appearing in the US magazines Prelude, Oversound, Prodigal, and Public Pool. His recent interviews are at BOMB, Tin House, Parnassus, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He serves as features editor for the international online journal of art and writing, Drunken Boat.]
Copyright © 2016 by Peter Mishler, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.