Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Larry Duncan- Three Poems

Procne Unravels the Nightingale

When she kisses him,
he does not kiss her back. 

His lips are dry and cold,
chilled by the ice in his drink. 

Her sister was right.
Tongues swallow secrets
easier than bread.

She opens her eyes 
and his eyes are open, too. 
But not to her.

They are transfixed
by a flock of shadows—
frantic flight of wings,
naked branches pinned by the wind,
a kind of cross-eyed intensity
bordering on terror. 

This is what it’s like to kiss the dead, she thinks.
What an ugly bird.

Without a word, she rises,
And returns to the stove
where cast iron pots boil
a sea of strange soup
and kitchen knives love children, too.


Pyre piles smoke cracks into the unmoving marble
sky with the sacrament of autumn leaves.

Fire tongues lick the air and dance serpentine
shadows across the pale faces of the crumbling

houses backed by the spires of ash and elm
and the mouths of empty porch swings. 

Red embers burn, reflected in the panes of black
glass, the unblinking eyes of rural Michigan. 

Trees—stripped naked—shudder the rapturous
fervor, caught in promise of lake-effect flurry.

At attention with his rake, the match stick silhouette
raises his head rises from the limp tangle of brown

grass beneath the carpet of leaves and bends an ear
between the mushroom bullet of the sun and the rabbit

in the moon.  He sounds the air for the crack of bolt
action to break the cricket silence.  In the pine thicket,

his father’s knees suck mud.  By winter, he’ll be lost.
His amber eyes swallowed in the tide of white,

encroaching  the edge of Fall.  Numb fingers, itching
at the lip of the trigger, unable to stroke that fatal, final inch.

A Brief Conversation with Virginia.

Yes, Virginia, one can imagine such a world,
but not for very long. 
The housekeepers are constantly tidying up,
constantly driving the dust from the shelves,
constantly clearing the letters and clothing
from where they fall, tugging loose sheets
taut across the bed.  While outside the walls,
their happy husbands—the gardeners—
work feverishly, trimming back the hedges
that grow wild, framing in the lawn,
plucking the weeds from the garden. 

See there, that limb that nearly obstructs
the smooth parallel order of electrical lines,
it must come down 
and there, that fragile blade of grass
that dares to break the gummy bonds of asphalt,
it must be pulled. 
Its roots torn from the earth before others take hold.

In this world, Virginia, the Table of Precedency holds sway forever.

But what does this world knows nothing of forever. 
Forever is our world, Virginia.
Time is theirs. 
At least the hands
turning ever to the right
linking each arbitrary mark
along the circle
to the center.

But, I’ll tell you a secret Virginia,
outside the hands
time is on our side. 
Real time. 
Geologic time.
Cosmic time.

The gleam of stars long ago turned to dust,
reforming once again into bodies of light. 
We can see, sweet Virginia, we can see...

...that perhaps, while tidying a particularly disordered desk,
the housekeeper pauses over a letter
left unread on a pile of unopened bills,
and upon reading the letter
lays down her broom and dust pan for good. 
…or that the gardener, while tending the roses,
pulls free a wild flower from the thorns,
and carefully transplanting it to a pot,
takes it home to his wife,
where she places it on the bed stand
and on the floor, beneath its petals,
they make love for the first time in years,
consumed by something both desperate and ecstatic.

But enough conjecture. 
Get up, Virginia.
Take the stones from your dress. 
Get up and walk across the room. 
Don't take his word for it. 
Get up and run your hand along farthest wall.
See for yourself
perhaps it is not a snail after all.

Bio: Larry Duncan currently lives in Long Beach, CA. He graduated from Chapman University with a BFA in Creative Writing and received his MFA at California State University, Long Beach. His writing has appeared in various online and print magazines, including Emerge Literary Journal, Muddy River Poetry Review, My Favorite Bullet and the Fat City Review.

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