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Poetry

Four Poems

Peoria

 

I don’t know when that name 
entered my ear. I remember 
hearing it was where 
my father won his first case. 
He must have stayed a while, 
maybe in the Mark Twain Hotel. 
Maybe actual brown bison 
watched him from a field,
or a commemorative mug
with facts about megafauna
and the quaternary extinction event. 
They still have some in the zoo, 
their shaggy mountainous 
shoulders permanently 
hunched in preemptive defeat. 
Each time he returned 
from whatever city 
he would bring a snow globe 
back for her. You could 
turn or shake it and see 
white flakes far too slowly 
descend through some 
eternally clear liquid onto 
appropriate plastic landmarks. 
Among them people stilled 
in the act of moving agree 
life is elsewhere and the past 
by nature misremembered 
so they shall stay forever
here and be loved. O happy 
shadows of the ordinary. 
A collection of plastic 
half eggs translucently
covering various mid-sized cities 
cherished on a mantle grew. 
I don't remember seeing 
Peoria, maybe that was before 
the first time he had almost 
not remembered and with guilty 
gratitude stuck the far too 
expensive trinket in the pocket 
of his overcoat, running 
to the plane soon to be filled 
with that once ubiquitous smoke. 
It flew through undefeated 
years of night toward our capital. 
I had not yet been born.
Here I've been slowly learning 
to speak to those purple flowers 
in their language, in which 
Peoria means mountainside 
hidden in productive shade 
between the orchard 
and the dream. It’s where 
they grow. I see the planets 
glowing on a wall 
above my own son's bed. 
The past is always misremembered. 
Hold it to your ear. It has 
the sweet hum of the superstore 
buried inside an apple. You can
almost hear it say be glad 
your father never told you 
elsewhere, that's where life is.

 
 
 
 

The Names

 

Another cloudy day and whatever
combination of faculties and flaws 
	  I need to start another diurnal journey

seems to have been cored out of the brain
		   I filled this morning with grey 
vital thoughts to be instantly forgotten.

		   I know I owe that man a response
		   though I am bewildered
		   and someone I barely know 
sent me a small beautiful book
	  with an owl on the cover

and told me
its force would accompany me everywhere.

		     I don’t know anything about owls
		     except they are formidable hunters

and not any wiser than the rest of us.
I am overflowing 
	   and if I were able to make a single wish

		    it would only be for quiet in my mind
		    which I probably wouldn’t like.

No, it would be to remember 
the irretrievable names 
		     of three people

			      on a train moving through a night
			      full of a language none of us could speak

there would never be another joy like that one
and I can’t even picture their faces.

		    We know from the earliest stories
	 some deity was always telling a pitiable human

he could not go on without deciding
		      what every single thing is called

including those little yellow flowers
	   I can see from my window
but it could not be done

and now it’s spring and there are still so many nameless flowers
that will live and die 
		    without ever having wanted anything.

 
 
 
 

Poem for Thane

 

Brother in song
we really did live
on a street named after a bard

I kept looking him up
then forgetting

it felt like he was sleeping
across the street
in the coffin factory

once we took the tour
everything shone
a great amplitude

they were wonderful
those black containers 
in that inimitable
nameless shape

one even vermilion
a luscious green lacquer
I still painfully covet

when the guide stopped 
we knew he would say 

who wants to try

one of us did
it looked
like he grew up 

to be that child
who finally knew

what happens
if we give up wanting
to have something to say

we stood there 
the low green 
hum in our heads

almost said 
it’s ok
cross the water

 
 
 
 

Report to the Clouds

 

1.
We watched a video of spiders 
horribly hatching then a butterfly
almost being eaten by a cat
then people filling a hopeful 
alley with foreign song

dear vapors you don’t care
at all you don’t even think 
poor creatures 
to you we are dead
already feeding the grass
you don’t care that there’s no escape 

to the park for another impractical 
lesson about sharing 
what belongs to everyone 
with young sociopaths or burying 
our feet next to the coveted train

are you not even a little bit sad 
about the empty tunnel 
or Florida’s giant palms
impervious in their own shade
Florida malarial land
it’s too late to give back to anyone

another text arrives
it says cover our erstwhile faces
I am writing this quickly under 
black actuarial clouds 
the rain keeps us inside
this house full of books
that almost audibly dream

in the other room letters are scattered
and a torn book about frogs
contains a great solution
outside some brave children
pretend not to be rescued
by the fire police and scream
they will love each other forever

the rain like it has been here 
all along arrives
again insisting our door 		
is also something gray
one more time I read the book 
about things that come from eggs 
and the mouse chrysalis so rare 
it does not even exist 

the worst month in history 
has not even begun
soon I will reveal my plan
for a theoretical garden 
and now it is time to end
this report to you and draw 
another distant tree

2.
 the swing  rests in
quite prolonged
morning darkness

 and the lone 
shoe  just like tomorrow
will not  leave its environs

 the wooden fence
watches
an animal
 watch the warm
fortunate
light
of our home
 and shiver

 the trees
in the yard
almost say 

we know it feels 
like everyone
else is dying
 but you are too

3.
Children reading
endless linked stories
on the grey couch faded 

by light through a previous window
can see the green park
as if climbing 

down the concrete slide
an abandoned truck
in one hand then hurtling up

the chipped blue ladder
instead of this couch 
waiting for some god 

to come and say now it’s safe
to walk through the finally 
harmless air.

My son can almost 
but not yet say he is tired
of being so loved.

I gave him some sand
with tiny magnets in it.
He made a structure

then sang tower 
to the skies
quietly, into his hand.

Matthew Zapruder is the author most recently of "Father’s Day" (Copper Canyon Press), and "Why Poetry" (Ecco). He is editor at large at Wave Books, and teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at Saint Mary’s College of California.

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