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After Pound


These pink blossoms on black branches;
Children we bombed posing on crutches.
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In some online search they find
the town his father's father's father
lived in before the Gold Rush made him
pull up stakes and go West to stare
into the stingy mirror of a pan, to try
being poor out there for a change.

And so they set out for Arkansas.
When they pull up in front of a house
not old enough to have been his
ancestor's, drowned in kudzu, it's not
the root of his family tree he finds,
but the dead branches of another's.
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Premature Will


The trees are turning
like an old man turning
finally to the heavy evening

work of drafting his will.
As he writes, hairline cracks
appear in the porcelain

of his life. The chair he sits in,
deeded to his son the writer,
almost refuses to hold him,

while the kitchen table
he writes on, deeded
to his daughter,

who seems destined
to have a large family,
aches to walk down

the road on its frail,
foal-like legs into her kitchen.
Every object he writes down

the name of is anxious
to begin its new life
with his children.

He is writing his will
as if he will die any day
now, but he will live

another twenty years,
confounded that things
he loves seem

to disobey him,
as if mad he is holding
on to them so long.
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Lucid in Harness


Worked to white lather,
their mouths frothing green
around the gnawed bits,
their nostrils velvet bells,
their lungs bellows blowing
on their hearts' smoldering
fires, still they are more
lucid in harness than
the man with snowflakes
in his lashes and reins gone
slack in his hands.
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Small-Town Law Office, Central Illinois


This town's sole lawyer dreams of being
allowed to prosecute and defend
the same man, pacing back and forth
before the rapt courtroom hanging
on his every word. Then dreams of being
the judge and all nine members of the jury.
Then dreams the jury hung, then dreams
the whole thing over again. This on afternoons
when all his cases are closed like flowers
before a killing frost and from the other room
comes the sound of his secretary typing,
her fingers ringless and furious. She dreams
of walking across America to deliver the letter
she is typing to the handsome and lonesome
lighthouse keeper. The letter says,
"You can come down now and marry
a woman far inland. For from now on
every ship is a ghost ship." At the end
of the day, leaving, the lawyer tells her
not to stay too late. She promises him
she won't.
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Kneeling Bus


A sign by the door
says this bus
is a "Kneeling Bus."
This bus kneels
at the filthy curbs
and gutters of the world,
kneels to me,
to you, to us.

I was feeling hopeless
walking to the stop
and now I'm not because
of how the bus kneeled,
like a girl late for Mass
who settles into the pew,
crosses herself quickly,
and kisses her fist.
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Writers Retreat


Why do writers retreat
from the world as if the world
were coming for them
in the night with pitchforks
and torches?

It is the world that retreats
from the writer.
Writers should go out
in broad daylight
shouting verses, stories.

Then, when the world
comes for them
with pitchforks and torches,
they can hide until the world
forgets what it's looking for.
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Drunk Late at Night In a Cabin in the Redwoods


The forest floor is thick with dirty needles.
I decide instead to take a walk up the hill
of the typewriter. When I come back in
I'm reminded I never had the heart
to carve the pumpkin. Its face is blank
as these six melatonin pills a friend
gave me to help me sleep out here
in the deep woods. I take three
in the hopes that I dream a poem,
a poem about a blind girl feeling,
then naming, the newborn foal, or one
about a deaf boy signing to the aurora,
a poem so absurdly poetic
the workshop would hate it.
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Three Dying Dog Dreams


After I deleted your name
from my phone, I began having dreams
about dogs dying. The first two
were about our family golden retriever.
Somehow in the teleportation of dreams
we were in Paris. I kneeled down
to let her off her leash and she ran off.
I called and called her name but knew
when I rounded the corner I'd find her
dead in the street. And I did. She died
in my arms as passers-by whispered
sympathies in French. I could feel her
body, the blood in her matted fur,
her weight I know from picking her
forelegs up to slow-dance with her
around the kitchen. A few nights later
I dreamt of her dying again. This time
it was some flower she'd eaten
she wasn't supposed to. I forced her
to swallow strange pills of damp,
compressed herbs just in time
to revive her. In relief I embraced her,
her living body warm, her fur bloodless.
But she seemed far away, as if
she hadn't come back from where
she'd gone when her eyes rolled like magic
eight balls in her skull. And then,
just last night, I dreamt of a different dog,
a huge dog I knew somehow
was named Holcomb. He and I,
we were walking along a dark gorge
in the mountains when a storm came up.
The lightning broke its arms trying
to carry the sky. I was afraid. Holcomb,
drenched, dog-smelling, pressed
against me as we walked. I was afraid
he'd push me into the gorge.
Then out of the dark a dozen hounds
came, mouths like bear-traps,
snarling and drooling. I could feel
my heels hanging over the lip of rock.
Holcomb hove into them, but they
were too much for him. I watched them
drag him off bleeding into the dark
and woke wondering what it meant,
three dying dog dreams in three months.
I looked up an interpretation that said
one may dream of dogs when one has lost
a friend. Before we ceased speaking,
I dreamt of you almost every night.
Now, I never do. I dream of dogs dying.
And if you were to call me now,
I wouldn't recognize the number,
and wouldn't answer.
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Poem for Roscoe Holcomb


Floodlit you look nervous
shy as a boy at a dance
they found you down
in Hazard brought you up
like a trilobite into the light
of the north in Manhattan
your nerves must be shot
to hell and now onstage
they’re rolling film of where
you live Seeger saying “Not much
of a house four walls a roof
the walls papered with the daily
news to keep the wind out
are most houses like that?”
and you say switching the banjo
out for the guitar “Some are”
and Seeger says “Now Roscoe
you make a living working
construction is that right?”
and you say “Yes but I can
hardly work anymore I broke
my back” and Seeger says “But
your fingers they sure still work”
and you say “I can’t hardly see
how what with lifting so many
cinder blocks as I have” and
Seeger says “Well will you play
one for us?” and you say
“I call this one
The Rocky Mountain”
as you play they’re rolling
footage of you hoeing corn
on another day of your life
self-conscious knowing
you’re being filmed
you stop playing
and Seeger says “Oh you
saw your...take your eye off
that monitor and keep on singin’
hold that Rocky Mountain” and you try
but how can they ask you to
play today in New York City
while you’re watching yourself
hoeing corn in Hazard
Kentucky last spring?
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What Scrapper Kevin Said to Me at Apple Jack's Tavern in La Honda, CA


They call me Scrapper Kevin,
you know why?
It’s how I make a living.
Scrap metal.
Can’t fault a guy for making a living
any way a guy can.
But people around here,
a lot of ‘em hate me.
That guy over there, for instance.
Jesus Christ don’t look at him
God damn it.
That guy’s here to kill me.
There’s a hit out on me see.
See there’s this lake back in the woods
over there, you don’t know it,
don’t nobody know it
until you go in there.
It's a bad curve, a lot of folks
miss it and go right clear
through the brush.
There’s gotta be ten,
a dozen cars in there,
some with bodies in ‘em,
bodies still in ‘em.
Everybody knows that.
You don’t gotta be a genius.
This guy I knew, he lost his daughter
in there. She was texting him.
Well somehow the rumor got started
I’ve been dragging cars up
out of there for metal
and now this guy's been talking
about killing me,
throwing me in there.
See how I like it.
That's what that guy there's
here to do.
Don't think I don't know.
This here’s a small town,
La Honda’s a small town.
I swear to God I’ve never been
down there in that water.
I don’t care how broke I get,
I’ll never go in there.
Can you imagine?
Those bodies in there,
years some of them
bodies been in there.
I know what they must look like.
I’m from Michigan.
Every winter some idiot
kids’d get drunk and drive
out on the ice and it'd break.
Of course it would.
They'd go right in, it wasn’t uncommon.
Trust me I’d never touch that
water. But I’m not gonna lie.
Sometimes driving by I think
man all that metal.
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Sonnet for a Man Seen Carrying Roses


This man is carrying roses
home, I assume, I assume
to his wife, but how do I
know where he is going,
who the flowers are for?
Maybe he bought them for
himself to allay loneliness
with beauty. Maybe
he will give them away
before he reaches his door.
Who can say what this man
carrying roses will do
with them. Certainly not
me, a man carrying bread.
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Rain Becoming Hail


When rain hardens
into hail, one feels that
an inner resolution
on the part of water
has finally been
acted upon, as when,
after years of deliberation,
one finally makes a decision
one lacked the strength
to make before. When
I hear the rain turning
to hail on the roof I know
that again I am being
challenged to do that
which up to now I have
failed to do, and feel
at once something
within me withering
(that is cowardice)
and something hardening
(that is conviction)
before the hailstones
vanish into grass.
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A Few Poems Written in Paris

A Few Poems Written in Paris


Across the Jardin des Tuileries I can hear the screams
of tourists being hurtled through the air, their heads
light with blood, their hair everywhere, their eyes
clenched closed in fear of the fact that the only thing
keeping them from falling is a bar across their thighs.

Not far from here is where they erected the guillotine.
In the night it stood, silent, open, like an empty hotel
in the mountains in wintertime. At night when lovers
walked by it they shivered. High in the air the blade
shone. Rye thrived in the blood-soaked soil. Nothing

much has changed. Summer comes. People seek thrills,
then shade under the leaves of the chestnut trees.
In the dead hour before the first Campari, the waiters
rake the fine gravel, sweep leaves. The patience of waiters!
Even the word… In another time, not far from here,

these very men gathered in throngs to scream death
to kings. Stood on street corners, handing out pamphlets
and bread. Now, they smoke and wait for the tourists
to come down out of the air, their hair still wild,
their faces flushed red, and gesture at what they want.



This statue of a nameless goddess
in the Jardin du Luxembourg,
her head is so festooned with spikes
to keep pigeons from roosting on it
she will never know the weight
of a bird, its weariness when it comes
to alight on her and recite, sweetly;
the sonnet of its flight, will never know
its defecations, its feet older than
she is. The pigeons find other heads
to land on. God knows there are plenty,
and this goddess is passed over
like a daughter who lives unmarried.
Her fingers ringless.
Pure, clean of this world.
The saddest goddess in the park.



Walking through the market on Boulevard Raspail
I step into the gaze of the wide-eyed dolls
this man is trying to sell amidst this profusion
the fish gasping in oblique schools on the crushed ice
the rotisserie chickens turning on their spits
dripping grease into the cubist potatoes
the livers and hearts exposed like secrets
the cheeses aged and wise in their white rinds
amidst it all these four dolls slouched like kids
dead at desks and in a flash I remember
the other night wandering drunk and lost
I saw a woman and her children asleep
amidst soiled blankets drifted against the wall
of a closed bank and after I'd thought of all
that money worthless in its privacy in the dark
vault banked like cooking fires like leaves
I saw atop them all there was a baby
very nearly newborn lying somehow
at about the angle of the figurehead of a ship
her eyes open great black Parisian eyes
which watched me pass as if in fear
I might do this sleeping family some harm
and long after I had walked away from where
I thought I was going leaving them nothing
but asleep I could still see those eyes
taking in what will be memories deep
as the sea these fish were torn gasping
out of her eyes so unlike the eyes of these
dolls who can only stare who someone really
ought to buy if for no other reason
than to take them home
and close their eyes
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"An exciting Palo Alto mobile startup is seeking highly creative writers for a new mobile interactive-fiction chat application. This is an extremely fun opportunity to work with a senior product team as we create a new, highly addictive mobile service.

Ideal candidates should be: extremely creative; excellent in short-form writing; current on pop-culture; addicted to their mobile phones; edgy and have a good understanding of writing short, witty dialogue; and enjoy the idea of seductive writing. Beneficial skills would include: web and tech savvy; comfortable working with simple markup languages such as HTML; knowledge of Javascript is a plus.

We are excited to meet highly passionate and energetic writers who want to be part of a successful team that is building the next hot consumer mobile company. We have an immediate need for candidates. Please send your information, including any links or attachments to writing samples to editors@rolemance.com"


To Whom Is Concerned:

I am seeking positions at your mobile reactive-fiction chat application. When I read the job perimeters I texted friends and family immediately to say how much I want to text for you. I am excellent and extremely creative, have good understand of writing short, and love pop cultures. Though I have little experience purse hay at web utilities, I have lots of time on and in the Internet. And, while a simple makeup language is not so simple for me, my learning curves are steep. As for seductive, I am that, especially when writing. Some days I don't leave my house and then it grows dark and I stay home longer. I live in San Francisco, so my costs of relocation would be transmutable, perhaps, but hopelessly not remunerative. You have an immediate need for candidates; I have an immediate need for you. I have attached my novel to this document, and am exposed to feedback loops.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my interpretation of what you mean by application.

Yours veritably,

Austin R. Smith
Class of '15
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Form Letter for Requesting Trigger Warnings


Dear [Current American President],

Considering that more and more American universities are respecting students’ requests to be warned before encountering a disturbing passage in course readings (“disturbing passage” being defined as anything eliciting a strong emotional response), on behalf of my village I hereby request we be warned before drone strikes so that those of us cooking or farming or working in hospitals or telling our children stories in the hopes that they’ll finally fall asleep will have time to seek shelter.

The more warning, the better.


[Citizen of Whatever Country America Is Currently Bombing]
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The Gift


If I had a daughter I would tell her

If I had a son I would say


Some days my parents’ neighbors’ grandchildren
walk down the road to give the horse a carrot

There is fear in the way they pull their hands away
as into his long mouth the carrot disappears

Then delight in the way they laugh say thank you
walk back up the road looking at their hands


If I had a son I would tell him

If I had a daughter I would say

Every evening return
empty handed
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The Darkness Raises Its Hand


They say the light shines
And the darkness doesn’t understand

Like a dimwitted kid in a classroom
The darkness raises its hand

Says I might not be as bright
As all these who surround me

But watch you don’t ignore me
There’re plenty who adore me
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Mission Creek


What once ran red
when the butcheries bled
out like a steer slaughtered
and spinning on chains
now runs whatever color
the sky hands down to the water
like a child at a shelter
the creek will wear whatever
it is given without discernment
or complaint as it always has
the only difference being that
back then all the clothes were red
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The Politician


Look says the politician now
what we're look to do here is
look you've got to understand
a look in my position is look
when you've been in look
for as many look as I have
you look how to look put it
that way and yes but look
yourself in my shoes and look
it ultimately look down to is
look we have got to look what
you're saying is neither look
look there look what I mean?
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Larry's Boots


They were black snakeskin, the scales peeling,
the toes curved up, the soles scuffed. I waited
until the room was empty, then touched them
like I have seen a friend touch her mother’s feet
hidden in the blue and gold folds of her sari
and saw him standing against the brick wall
of some Richmond bar, watching a bad band
play beautifully, whispering a poem he never wrote
down, a poem about a rattlesnake asleep in the shade
of a rock in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The fetishization of the dead embarrasses the living.
But someone had decided to put Larry Levis’s
cowboy boots on display, and there was no way
I was going to leave before touching them.
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The Capacity of Speech


It is easy to be decent to speechless things.
To hang houses for the purple martins
To nest in. To bed down the horses under
The great white wing of the year's first snow.
To ensure the dog and cat are comfortable.
To set out suet for the backyard birds.
To put the poorly-shot, wounded deer down.
To nurse its orphaned fawn until its spots
Are gone. To sweep the spider into the glass
And tap it out into the grass. To blow out
The candle and save the moth from flame.
To trap the black bear and set it free.
To throw the thrashing brook trout back.
How easy it is to be decent
To things that lack the capacity of speech,
To feed and shelter whatever will never
Beg us or thank us or make us ashamed.
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Of blood, of course. But also of this
Penny minted the year Kennedy was killed,
Passing from hand to hand like an assassin
In a crowd. Of air through lungs and leaves.
Of mercury from factory into spillway
Through gills into fish flesh through breast
Milk into newborn. Of the lie the president
Tells that sells the war to the populace.
Of the awful truths all lies become once
They’ve taken root. Of the water the sun
Raises Lazarus-like from the lake and which
Falls on the red umbrella of the woman
At the funeral. Of books checked out once
Every ten years by graduate students.
Of beer and urine. Of the wasting disease
That makes the starved deer stagger down
From the hills, killed crossing the highway.
Of the carrion the vultures carry in talons
Into the trees. Of the dead and the daisies.
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Finding a Four-Leaf Clover in Cocteau and Maritain's ART AND FAITH


Pressed, its leaves could be the cardinal
Directions of a compass rose, save that
One leaf is askew. Then again, perhaps
It points the way to the meadow where
What is rare is to find a three-leaf clover.
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Two Sounds


Two sounds arrested me while writing
Prose. They appeared at either ear
Like officers at the front and back door.
One was the sound of the wind
In the corn, the rustling of leaves
Like nervous people rubbing palm
Against palm. The other was the sound
Of a jet, high and unknowable,
Its nervous passengers an abstraction,
Its pilots and attendants no more
Corporeal than this wind that takes
Leaves and makes them make music
That makes me stop trying to write
About the world, and listen to the earth.
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Valentine's Day in the City


Like a flautist preparing to perform,
the flower seller places her fingers
on the stops between the thorns.

Around her, the symphony of sirens
and horns. She cuts the stem and hands
the flower to this young man who stands

in the shadow of her skyscraper,
looking up towards the high windows,
gazing down now into the rose.
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The Mechanic's Children


Two children barefoot in a spring,
their feet white and cold as turnips,
her dress pulled up, his pants rolled
past his knees. Each holds a jelly jar.
Imagine a tiny pair of glass lungs
hovering in the green woods, in-
haling murky water that was crystal
clear this morning when they lay
sleeping in the bed they share.
They're after the creatures that toil
in the sand, tireless as pacemakers.
The cracked crankcases of the cars
their father abandoned back here
bleed oil. When they find the rainbows
they catch them too. And long after
all the creatures they caught have died
the rainbows will abide.
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Things We Don't Often Think Of


The nightmares
of beekeepers.

The wrists
of bakers.

The fathers
of murderers.

The birth
pains of cats.

The addresses
of mailmen.

The laughter
of deaf boys.

The obituaries
of faraway towns.

The taxi driver
driving home.

The barber
sweeping up hair.

The basement
of the house in the painting.

The backs
of hand mirrors.

The bridles
of dead horses.

The doors
of slaughterhouses.

The pens of old
love letters.

The fossils
in bulk gravel.

The music
boxes in shipwrecks.

The mountains
under the sea.

The darkness
in the accordion.

The night
reading of fishermen.

The skeletons
of astronauts.

The other side
of the coffin pillow.

The grave
of the undertaker.
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Folk Medicine


Ten feet off this porch are plants
that would kill me if I ate them.

Ten feet from any plant that would kill me
is a plant that would save my life.

The antidote must resemble the poison.
How could it work otherwise?

The plants that kill
and the plants that save

look almost exactly like, like identical
twins asleep in a baby carriage.
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Color of Thunder


Thunder is
the green of
the iris in the glass
eye a grandfather
pops out to beat
his grandson
in marbles
and teach him
a lesson
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Thin Skin


What sin did I commit in a past life
to deserve being so sensitive in this one?
Why does this man whose livelihood
is ferrying me from O’Hare to Madison
make me so sad, taking money for tickets
with fingers barren of rings? Why, when
I was little, did the plow abandoned
in the field seem to me a child holding
a tray of empty plates in the cafeteria
of a new school? A stalk of asparagus
bent necklike in the contour of the pan
and I’m mourning the life of a woman
in a novel I’ll never write, reading on a train.
At the protest, when everyone was screaming
at the line of police, one of the cop’s yawned
and I saw, instantly, his whole boyhood.
I wished everyone would just go home
so he could sleep. I once cursed a kid
for pouring gin in a tide pool to see
the anemones closing themselves up,
so sorry did I feel for the anemones,
but I wound up feeling sorrier for the kid.
I used to wake at the snap of the mousetrap
and think all the poor thing wanted
was some peanut butter. Death will be
the only relief for someone sensitive as me.
And death. My God. What a pity…
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