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The Sycamore


Sycamore stricken white
in the black woods,
what spooked you?

Something the river said?

A new seriousness
in the owl’s question?

You went white all at once,
an aneurism of snow.

The boy who visits you
visits you no more.
He has a new picture
in his mind of what
death is.
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On a boat on the Seine
on Bastille Day I heard
a well-known American
poet say to a friend
that when they went
to Normandy they were going
to skip the war beaches
because, you know,
the children.
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Children wading
through fountains
looking for pennies
we threw when
we were children
do you remember
what we wished for
I know
I don't
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We are losing the last
who remember
punching new holes
in their belts those
years there was nothing
in the cupboard but
bread that never
molded and potatoes
the eyes of which
never went looking
through the dark
for one another
unlike a family
caught out in it
in broad day

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Playing Dominos With Josiah at the Shelter


I ask him to show me how to play. Together we start lining them up, each with its number on its chest, each with all its eyes bright and open, staring into the back of the one before it. "Who are these guys?" I ask, remembering that sculpture I saw in DC of a line of men standing outside a soup kitchen during the Depression. He points out the domino that is me and the domino that is him. "Where are we going?" I ask him. "Nowhere!" he says with glee. "What are we waiting for then?" "We're waiting...we're waiting for this!" he says, flicking the last one with his nail. They fall like an arpeggio. "How about we build a house?" I suggest. The house Josiah builds is missing several necessary walls and a roof. I pick up a domino to add to it but before I can he knocks the house down with the back of his hand. "What was that? A tornado?" "No." "An earthquake?" He shakes his head. "A banker? A dragon?" His eyes light up, he nods. He's already building it back up again. "Another house?" I ask. "No," he says in the breathless voice of focused boys, "A tower." He builds it higher and higher. When I tell him I think he's built it as high as it can be built he builds it one level higher, then flies his hand into it and the whole thing comes crashing down. "What was that? A plane?" "No, a dragon!" "Oh," I say, "Well what should we do now?" "Let's make the men fall again," he says. I tell him I like that one and start lining them up but he stops me he says "Let's make them face the other way."
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Reading James Salter


To finish LIGHT YEARS I had to set aside an afternoon in the garden of a cafe, where I knew I could linger for two hours over one expensive glass of wine and the final pages without being interrupted. Around me, the talk of people working in tech, the new rich, speaking in earnest whispers about inventions that will make life easier, so that we may pass more swiftly and with less obstruction to the end, as I was passing to the end of the novel. Only I didn't want to finish it and be bereft of Viri and Nedra and their daughters, so that, the closer I came to the end, the slower I read, putting the novel down every paragraph or so. Time ground to a halt, and everything happening around me seemed to be connected to the book, so that there was no distinction between literature and life. A giant raven alit on the adjacent table to pick at the salads two women had abandoned, and this seemed significant, as did the light passing through what was left of my wine, hovering like a planchette on the bricks of the patio. Even the talk around me, which I would have ordinarily abhorred, seemed fraught with consequence. I knew anew the joy of reading as a child, sitting on the farmhouse porch, when I would raise my eyes from the Civil War novel and know the fields to be battlefields. The absorption of it, and the thrill of being deceived into believing in the reality of a parallel life, which has its dangers, as well, the way a window full of leaves and sky endangers birds. And then there were no more words, and I looked up, and the raven and I were the only ones left in the garden.
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Summer is the attic.
Dead boxelder bugs
litter the sills.
Chests hold breaths
of yellowing letters.
You cannot stay
up here long,
soon you must
descend the stairs,
come down from
the height and heat

into the kitchen
which is autumn,
where the light is
the color of broth
and pheasant feathers
in brown bottles
are the only bouquets.
In the wood stove,
ashes and nails.
The kettle is cold,
the cupboard empty.

Descend the steep
cellar stairs into winter
where the preserves
of dead gardens are
kept and pale spiders
try their wares.
A dead steer
in the freezer,
and a cairn of coal.
Now that you've been
to the nadir of the year,

you may ascend
to the bedroom where
spring survives
in the wallpaper
and the headboard
gouged with a pattern
of flowering foliage.
Lie back in bed,
read her letter
again, the bluest ink
on the whitest paper.
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The moon lifts
the sea's face
up to its
and scans it
for signs of betrayal,
but the sea is honest,
honest, honest.
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Winter Orchard


Hard to say
which are dying
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The Fawn


A friend found a wounded fawn
on the road back of where he lives.

Unleashed, his Jack Russell terrier
lit into it, its broken forelegs

folding wrong in the loose gravel.
It cried out, he told me, in a human voice.

His girlfriend dragged the dog away,
leaving Lee alone with the fawn.

It couldn't stand but in its eyes,
he said, he saw the peace of all

pardoned things. "He was so beautiful,
Austin. His eyelashes were this long."

My friend has big hands, he plays bass.
He spread his thumb and index finger

wide apart. I nodded and said I could
just see them. We shook our heads

and drank to beauty so beyond us.
I wanted that to be the end of the story,

Lee sitting there in the road, holding
the fawn in his lap. It got quiet

in the bar. The story had to go on.
"I couldn't shoot him," he said.

"He was too beautiful to shoot.
I picked him up and carried him

down to the pond." "And then?"
"And then we walked into the water."
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