Are they starlings?

Should we go outside?


He sat out for the birds most evenings if he was able. Clipboard in hand, a drink to make it feel casual. As the minutes ticked on, a momentary panic could take hold: suppose they shouldn’t come? When they finally would arrive, he allowed himself modest satisfaction. The surge of a small hope realized.


When his birds finally would arrive, w hen the first group would pepper the horizon, he noted the time. Solitary birds didn’t count—it had to be a murmuration, a movement. On October 3rd, the first true group had shown itself at 5:31 p.m. They had risen like smoke over the horizon. They tumbled around the eastern sky together with one pulse. Then, as he had expected, they fanned out into a running stream. A chorus in cloud that streaked toward the blue-blush of the sunset.


His task was to record. The minute of their arrival, how long they held tenure over the little patch of sky capping his garden. Logging their departure, of course, was an unfair exercise of guessing and waiting. Suppose the last one should have been the last one? Yet he endeavored to maintain a faithful record. Most evenings, he faced the usual challenge: to lose one’s self entirely in the face of overwhelming spectacle. When his birds were thick overhead, the little edges of his day could curl up and allow the part of him that tired of a life in this body—a life without her—to slip out.


When his birds were kind, they were generous in number. They washed over him. The following Thursday, though, their advance lasted only eleven minutes. They were true to the sunset—just moments after—but on the whole, an anemic group. There were fewer birds in total, which distressed him more than he liked to say. However, the morning (and he recorded this on the line for observations) had been foggy.


Will it be any moment?


When he sat out for the birds, they eventually appeared. Not always when he expected, or in enthusiastic numbers. Occasionally, they crested the hill much farther south than he was accustomed to looking. His birds had their own brand of constancy. It comforted him very little.

He’d feel fairly sure that he had pinned down the window of their arrival, and then they would break with tradition. They might show up blindingly early, eclipsing a corner of the kitchen window as he washed up at the sink. Elbows dripping, he imagined confronting them over their indifference. “We are governed by different rhythms,” they would shrug, forcing him to see how petty and small were his complaints. Perhaps he’d love them all the more for this nonchalance. Such a response would speak well of him, he thought.


Are they starlings?


His birds were black without jeweled throats. They likely weren’t starlings. What’s more, they seemed quite large at times. He’d point at one and feel it drag his finger in a lazy arc across the sky. Large as a crow, perhaps.


The booklet said it had everything to do with self-preservation. They were afraid of being the first to roost. So they would take to the sky en masse, moving as one, where they could expect protection from the things gentle birds fear. Then they would alight together on waiting branches. It was defensive. Yet he feared for them all the same. His birds were nothing like the circling hawks, red in beak and claw. How easily they could be picked off, and how little they seemed to realize! Their numbers would not guard against disaster– they only promised a witness.


He greeted them prone on the 16th, his eyes fixed upward, filtering in the last of the evening light. They scrolled across the sky. He could not bear to check his watch and later found himself able only to record that there had been “a great many birds.”
How they were pitiless! His birds could not trouble themselves for the cares of a man outside on his back, crying to the heavens.


Will they come much after sunset?


It had seemed almost cruel to hazard a guess as to when they would appear. Then she would count the minutes starting in the late afternoon. The hands on a clock’s face eluded her, but she could still stand in front of the microwave.


“Now, it’s 4:24, and I’m sure of that.”


Depending on the season, when he came home it was straight out to the garden. In winter, there would not be a moment even to unlace his uncomfortable shoes. She’d see him coming up the walk and clap her hands.


Summertime, though, saw the evening stretch. She’d ask to fix herself an orange squash; he would assent. He knew when the sun would set and didn’t like to rush her if needn’t be. He’d leave her alone in the kitchen and listen from the hallway, warmed by the small sounds of her industry. If anything broke, he would be near enough to lift her bare feet.


She loved best the settling in. As twilight fell they would take to their chairs, side by side in repose. It was a happy ritual. He’d caution her against upending her drink, and she’d ask for the clipboard. Holding the pen aloft, she would nod gently while ticking off each cell—“There’s some writing there.”


They took such pleasure in these moments, lived in the anticipation of a great movement. Sweeping across the sky, the birds were haughty, exclusive. Yet at the same time, one felt urged along with the group. Their appearance was a nightly invitation to weep for the lack of wings.


Should we go outside?


He consented on November 7th to be taken out by cheerful friends, knowing full well this outing would make it impossible to collect the numbers. Rain was coming down in driving sheets, and the birds might respond in any of a number of ways. They could conceivably set out earlier due to the darkened sky, but it was possible they would wait for the sunset’s usual glory. They might hang around uneasily, exchanging glances: “It’s time to go.” “No, it’s not.” Surely, even now, he thought, they were squinting for the definitive signal. The one his birds must feel sure that they had been promised.


On the 10th, they were chaotic, outrageous. The birds arrived with the fair weather and apparently no idea of where they should go. Rather than their usual purposeful stream, they parted into opposing groups, dovetailing, wheeling back and rounding in on themselves. A piteous spectacle, these instinct-driven creatures who were suddenly unmoored.


The very next day they’d regained their composure. It was maddening in a way. It made him quite angry, come to think. They flew in a proud trajectory, as though the day before hadn’t been a sputtering disaster. His birds weren’t visionaries; they could be made so unsure of themselves. An early moon looming over the hedge or a stiff wind might send them into disarray.


By the end of the week, he no longer felt that he could trust them. Suppose the last time had been the last time? Sunday evening, he took to his car at their first appearance, determined to follow them to the place they roosted. He craned his neck out the window as he drove, cursing as their swooping progress turned in directions counter to his own. His breath shortened each time he reluctantly dragged his focus back, back into the vehicle, the body. Then he soared to join them. Back into the seat, a glance into the rear-view. A searching of the horizon. Pulling up short, he narrowly avoided a young woman and her dog who had stepped from the curb. Just as soon as he became aware of barreling through their shared space, he was past them. She had worn slim, reflective bands around her upper arms that bounced back the light.


He discarded this uncomfortable fact. He could not both drive and dwell on the boundless possible tragedies of each moment. His birds had presented themselves once more—(was it the group he had initially set out to follow?)—and their pace appeared to slacken as they neared their destination.


From the garden, it had always seemed they were chasing the setting sun. In reality, they streaked toward a stand of eucalyptus trees across from the Fred Meyer’s. He’d parked underneath those trees before, been irritated by the smattering of bird shit.


How long will it last?


The public broadcast station was playing that special on Western migrations again. Chinook salmon. His birds would have tucked their heads under a wing by now. He nursed a gin and tonic while not looking over to the picture window.


Her perch. She had installed herself on the tufted cushions after the incident with the pilot light, which he had said was no big deal. He trusted her, of course, and there was no need. He could switch off the line behind the range. It would be simple. Why had Mrs. Temple said she’d been on the bench all afternoon again when she was perfectly welcome? There was no need. She stopped thumbing through her book then, smiled at him dazzlingly.


“It’s cheerful here, really.”


How will we know when it’s really begun?


A group of six, though slight, might signify that it had begun. If they clustered together in formation, they could very well usher in the movement. They became together something far more urgent, more striking than they ever seemed alone. Once the beginning announced itself, it couldn’t be denied any longer.


One imagines a flock as a single mind, but surely one bird has to strike out for the sunset first. Was it a drop in the temperature, felt by those hollow bones?


Who could say the exact date it had alighted upon her? The first day, perhaps, it would have shown up on a test? The dawning realization of its inevitable course, the dread he had carried alone. He dutifully held and guarded her, tracked and fed and made the thousand loving gestures that measured a day. He saw to the milligrams, the ounces, the critical levels.


He had pictured such a disaster as theirs before. In his mind, the earth had rent in two; his birds on the wing would drop from the sky. He had never expected that anyone should have to preside over the fracas. In reality, their disaster was a startlingly quotidian affair. One that came with armfuls of bills and bottles. Over and over, the administration of it alarmed him – samples to be monitored, appointments to be scheduled. The slow thick glide of a dark, astringent syrup to be given up to three times daily.


Who will be the first to roost?


Nights he sat out for the birds, he bore witness to a homeward journey.


He was an imperfect observer. At times, he came in because he was cold. There was always the chance that he had missed an earlier group as he made his way outside. He usually sat in a patio chair, but once had chanced to stand and saw a dotted black trail disappearing over the valley’s edge. A group completely hidden from his previous vista. He felt abashed that he had failed to detect them when they were so close. But he couldn’t deny that these movements were happening in many places, so very many places he couldn’t see. And this felt like both a betrayal and a great relief.


No one had ever said what should be gained by recording these figures, he thought with no small amount of bemusement. He’d busied his hands taking down the information. Capturing the data resulted in little more than a ghastly approximation of the experience, though. There was a part of him that wanted to snap the clipboard over his knee in a great act of violence. It was a false prophet, a soothsayer. It promised regularity where there was none. Still, how easy it was to forget. He continued to sit out nights with his pencil poised, ready to fill in the next cell.


He came to understand how she must have felt when he smiled benignly and said, “Experience tells us, any moment now.” He came to understand that while there was a range of normal values, one couldn’t possibly produce any sort of estimate worth a damn. He came to see what it was not: which was to say not a dike against rising waters, not even an answer to the pestering of a sharp-eyed changeling. He ventured to the shore each night if only to unroll a feeler—a filament, a sustaining thread. He came to remember in his bones what it was like to be a pilgrim in a strange land, a visitor to a landscape whose patterns she had yet to discern.


Griefs Spun to Gold

Venus in Retrograde by Susan Lilley

Burrow Press, 2019

Hardcover, 123 pages, $20.00

Cover of Venus in Retrograde by Susan Lilley.

In his essay “Fear of Narrative and the Skittery Poem of Our Moment,” Tony Hoagland asserts that many contemporary poets are leery of the narrative mode because such poems require commitment to development and continuity. Those holding that view, he says, are drawn to the poem that is “skittery,” that “would prefer to remain skeptical,” and that “prefers knowing to feeling.”


Susan Lilley’s collection Venus in Retrograde is an elegant example of the reasons narrative poems still deserve a place in our contemporary poetic cosmos. Her poems diligently interrogate the past while avoiding the excesses of sentimentality and self-indulgence that are often associated with narrative (“confessional”) poetry. Lilley’s poems also demonstrate that “knowing” and “feeling” are not mutually exclusive methods or goals.


In “Champagne Road,” the second poem in the book, is this couplet: “There must be an easier way to quit a house / than to touch everything in it.” Those lines encapsulate both the primary thematic concerns of the book—love, loss (and its corollary, new beginnings)—and the ways in which Lilley’s poems reach out to touch (and to clarify and animate) the “kitchen laughter, / hallway recriminations, [and] shower singing” that are the accompaniment of a life richly lived.


The book is arranged along more or less chronological lines, and some of the most endearing poems are those addressing the foibles and joys of puberty and sexual awakening. Lilley’s sure eye for the telling detail is evident in “Experienced: Jacksonville, 1967,” in which the speaker and her cousin attend a rock concert as an adjunct to church camp. In the bus on the way, a boy “stood up and burped the alphabet;” when a “boy way too old” showed an interest in the speaker at the concert, her cousin “grabbed my arm and close-mouth screamed,” and when he asked how old the speaker was, “I said, I don’t know.” And the result of these transgressions? “We had to write extra Ten Commandments / for not staying with the group.” Lilley maintains an affectionate distance from the stories the poems relate, relying on a wry tone to provide the commentary.


In a similar, if more reflective vein, is “Song for a Lost Cousin,” which nicely illustrates the ways in which these poems strike lyric notes as a complement to their narrative intent. The middle of the poem finds the girls “powdering our faces / geisha white, love potions / in the blender with nectarines / and stolen Cointreau.” And later,


 Even the peacocks I love

 are shadows of my first, a bird

 now dead for decades, once

 opulent and princely on a dirt road,


 calling for love against black

 storybook trees and a moon cut

 from tracing paper.


The rich imagery makes implicit the importance of the experience and its indelible place in the speaker’s memory.


Lilley is a mature enough poet to have lived through the deaths of parents, and several poems focus on the circumstances of those losses. “A Man in a Hurry” chronicles the sudden death of her father, how “On the Sunday we now know was his last” “he fell / into a long moment and stayed there, / stayed no matter how we called him back.”


“Palm Court,” one of the strongest poems in the book, begins as an elegy for the speaker’s mother but expands to become a meditation on memory itself. Standing with her own daughter near her mother’s childhood home, the speaker wants “to ransack the air itself / for evidence of afternoon / piano lessons, dark braids / flying behind a rope swing, / hopscotch songs in the street.” But then comes the honest and moving truth:


 But our faces are not

 yet dreamed of,

 here at the very place

 her girl laughter might still

 be trapped in the trees.


That lovely and unexpected juxtaposition of past, present, and future exemplifies just one way in which these poems often push beyond mere narrative to reach for the transcendent.


Anyone who is a Florida native, as is Lilley, or who has lived long in the state, will appreciate the elegiac allusions to mid-century Florida that appear throughout the book, the “burnt cake / perfume that citrus refineries blew,” the beach houses “at the end of two-track driveways / soft with sand and flanked by / crowds of hissing palmettos / and sea grape.” Nostalgia is an inevitable adjunct to such imagery but also there is the stamp of authenticity in it, that the reader is taken by the hand and led by a credible guide through a rich landscape that has vanished or is disappearing.


One of the greatest strengths of Susan Lilley’s poems is that they present the reader with a bifurcated subject. As the poems recall the physical and emotional landscapes through which they pass, what is also being discovered and described are the paths the self must navigate toward awareness. It is not enough for Lilley to remember and describe what happened. It is also important to discover the courage and the means to let things go. Venus in Retrograde succeeds at both tasks.


Please make sure to see Susan Lilley’s poem “Wedding Season,” included in Venus in Retrograde and previously published here in Aquifer.


Mournful Meditation

Letters to My Father by Bänoo Zan

Piquant Press, 2017

Paperback, $18.50


Cover of Banoo Zan's Letters to My Father


A mournful meditation, Bänoo Zan’s Letters to My Father is a collection of forty-one poems, each charged with the turmoil that’s birthed in the meeting of grief and memory. If taken in one long gulp, its power will sear through you. A few sips of Bänoo Zan’s poetry will disperse deep into your soul, relieve your aches, and balm your losses. Its collective experience is disarming.


Zan dedicates her second poetry collection to her father, Parviz Ghanbaralizadeh, who passed away in 2012 in Iran, while she was striving to build a new life in Canada. When news reached Zan, she chose not to visit the funeral or memorial services held in her father’s honor. Removed from the scenes of bereavement taking place in her hometown, Zan turned her pen to a flowing, emotional outpouring of verses that expressed what was left unsaid and explored their complex relationship.


The painful reality that strikes out possibilities to reconcile or reconnect with the one who has passed on is central to this collection. The persona’s anguish makes her wish for death and doom, in hopes that it’ll bring her the reconnection she desires, a reconnection that wouldn’t be possible in life:


If you ever loved me

wish me a death so final

it would rescue the heart

from separation

If you are still somewhere

waiting for me—

prophesy my doom


There’s an evocative quality to Zan’s uncluttered and orderly writing style. Stripped down to their ultimate simplicity, the poems aren’t titled, just numbered, focused on the central vision of the poems. The emotions and situations that she probes are accessible to the reader, though laced with deeper complexities, as in poem number 41:


The river

mourns the ocean

every time


proves shallow


The brief and bare sentences tie up with clear and distinctive imagery to offer a profound view of some of the most disquieting situations in life.


There’s an intimacy that seeps into the imaginings of Zan’s poetry, creating a soulful and transcendent narrative. With grief as a catalyst, Zan explores the posthumous reconciliation of a father and daughter, and couples it with a spiritually charged, introspective layer.


Throughout the collection, the persona tries to connect life with death, both functioning as depictions of herself and her father. She traverses the realities of what death represents, linking everything back to herself. Her father’s death becomes a mirror that reflects the turmoil within her. The collection’s opening poem evokes a sense of longing that sets the tone:


I want you back

from the red of brown

to the blue of green

back from the phallus of death

to the womb of life

from unknown harmony

to known horrors


The poem circles back to the verse, “Leave me with you / as death with life,” an idea that the persona often reconstructs to portray an attachment that exists beyond death. She tries to search for her own emotional equilibrium in her father’s absence and recognizes in herself the reverberations of the bond they shared while he was alive. She tends to look for a rendering of herself in what existed of him. In poem 11, she writes:


You were

a ghazal

meeting qasidas


your blood-land

I am your epitaph


She sees herself as a final remnant of his beloved existence. In the consecutive poem, the persona confesses her regret, “I wish I had / shared you / with me.”


With its emotional depth comes a universal appeal; at a core level, people form connections and experience loss similarly. We’re all made up of stories, and in Zan’s poetry the essence of the story is in moments of being and existing. These moments are powerful enough to resonate with the reader, regardless what their personal worldview may be.


One thing that adds to the universal appeal and strength of Zan’s poetry is her alignment of Islamic and Arabian traditions and prophetic stories with the symbolism in western myths. In her poetry she invokes Narcissus, Agamemnon, and Ophelia with the same ease with which she imagines herself as her father’s prayer rug. In poem 30, Zan writes:


If I were your prayer rug

I would water

your desert hands

with golab


Religious and cultural notions become instrumental in her attempts to understand death.


Bänoo Zan’s previous poetry collection, Songs of Exile, was the first to be published in English (Guernica, 2016). Songs of Exile touched upon themes that erupt from becoming an immigrant and also addressed socio-political issues related to gender, ethnicity, and colonization. In comparison, Letters To My Father is a deeply personal poetry collection, one that must have required bravery on Zan’s part to share with the world. Zan’s poetry is a reminder that the discord caused by shifting ideologies does not have to license the irreparable rupture of our blood bonds. In this, Letters To My Father becomes a persona’s cathartic attempt to reconcile with another in death, through poetry infused with life.


Language as Remembrance, Witness, Companion

In June the Labyrinth, by Cynthia Hogue
Red Hen Press, 2017
76 pages, paper, $17.95



Cynthia Hogue’s latest collection from Red Hen Press unfolds around a journey to the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral undertaken as an elegiac pilgrimage. On this journey, Hogue maps a poetic space connecting grief and immortality, presence and immanence, love and loss. These connections demonstrate the power of language as remembrance, witness, and, ultimately, companion.


In June the Labyrinth begins following the death of Hogue’s mother and is dedicated to four of the poet’s friends who died in the subsequent two years of the book’s writing. As the poet begins the journey through the cathedral labyrinth, she transports the reader to an inner labyrinth of voices:


The difference between finding a way

and finding the way


is like that between not knowing

and having forgotten.


The spiraling movement of the labyrinth walk is layered with voices, primarily those of the I-speaker and the figure of the dying Elle, a strong female presence determinedly writing her “book of wisdom” until “she cannot hold her pen.” When Elle calls and a demon answers, Elle knows she is on her own:


This is the crux of her belief:

No one here to fall

back on but herself, she the wild,

and true blue, the only starry night.


Elle walks the labyrinth “meekly above ground / (there is a clearing in her heart).   A crunching sound / like wheels on gravel, a whirring / as of flight. A lifetime’s surrender.” The I-speaker, on the other hand, walks the labyrinth casting intuitive petals in the four cardinal directions as if to ward off the inevitability of Elle’s death. In the face of this loss, the speaker’s ritual creates poetically an opening of time into a space layered and timeless where self and other arrive as companions already loved, a place of healing.


With a generosity of spirit, an imaginative embodying of others within a self, and an inclusive carrying of lost beloveds within the human heart, Hogue’s poems demonstrate how language may transmute the experience of grief as habitation; they evidence the way a poem may become a form of visitation, embodiment, and possession which C. D. Wright called being “one with others.”


Hogue’s honed and spare language embraces innovative play with words misread, crossed out, called out, and sounded, giving the collection a vibrant texture. The poem “(“dehors et dedans”),” for example, begins with a fruitful misreading and then carves words out of themselves, a creative strategy that suggests, in this context, how “real” life remains “sliced from unreal” even as “life’s excluding” Elle and the speaker “cannot harbor / her.”


Outside is inside,

I misread Bachelard’s French

imagining Elle belonging when


life’s excluding her.

She will message me,

I think. But I cannot harbor


her. She is inside herself,

sliced from unreal, real,

as no from not.


A hope in the face of devastating loss is that Elle will “message me, I think.” The message is not a sure thing, yet if the speaker puts her mind to it, if she can imagine it, she may hear it. The power of memory and imagination connects the living and the dead. Embodied through Hogue’s language, it becomes a witness to the emotional and spiritual complexity of the grieving process:


being close enough to touch

differed from her distant love,

safely abstracted from presence.

Elle’s goodness found in her forgiveness.


Hogue achieves the flow and syncopation of the book’s startling music through her finesse with line, space, punctuation, and variations of form from tercets, quatrains, sestets and septets, to a hyphenated list, field composition, and prose. A subtle chiming rings through the book’s outer and inner worlds, which connect through sound and Hogue’s own aliveness as a poet.


One feels her urgency in seeking to understand and to reckon with the power of loss and death, particularly a daughter’s loss of her mother. Elle becomes the speaker’s familiar, an inner witness on the journey through a life learning to accept death through forgiveness:


Forgiveness is a labyrinth, a way,


going in this direction and not that,


the ethical route and heart’s root,


the core, of course, riddle of how


to cure the poison of the demon,


that bitterness which


bent her like a bell


until at last she sounded




Cynthia Hogue’s In June the Labyrinth is a stunning and unforgettable book. It is a letting in of grief rather than a letting go. Hogue’s poems demonstrate how one does not recover but rather uncovers and discovers truths about the other’s being in relation to oneself. Ultimately, these truths come to rest in language itself, in the poem embodied as a form of conscious companion.




Sister/Brother Poems

My Sister Sings Reba at Forty-Three

for Shawna


To worship the earth, we barefoot down

to the water because we have never been

clean, and for this dirty mercy, my sister


kneels in her wet suit to the smell of surf

wax at 7 AM, kneels to the car key stashed

in the wheel well and the first open eye


full of ocean, and yes, Lord, no way around it,

my sister, today, will accept a broken nose full

of the granite reef handed down to her


by the gods of the southwest swell. By blood,

by green, by mud, by tide, my sister will be

held under by the world, but because she swans


back to the surface punched out of breath

but having survived, my sister kneels

to pray in the key of steel guitar and sunshine


to the ripped-down posters of old rodeos,

to the wet way of hay on a boot heel, to the tush-

push and the electric slide and the wide


mouthful of wild she finds while surfing

the hot highway home in the back of a golden

Ford F-150. My sister survives, and you could call


my sister the breeze these many July mornings,

but my sister does not soar like a sky on nights

when beneath the weight of the pistol


in her waist she serves with a police badge of shine

across San Francisco, for my sister must know

how a kid’s face caves in on the Fourth of July


after a firework has flown half-way through it,

and my sister must kneel to find a dead father

in the street on the double-yellow line,


to find a runaway daughter, to survive

a man standing in a creek at midnight, firing

a rifle at God. My sister knows the trauma


as water, the song as rugged, the body as sinking,

so, Lord, thank you for saving my sister who sings

with what it means to be the bull and the rider


and the war paint melting down the face of a rodeo

clown, what it means to chase a smile around

a filthy ring, yes, Lord, to chase the next wave,


or the next dance of tight asses in Wrangler pants,

or a next of kin, or the last long finishing note

of the evening before loading up the truck


with loneliness and heading home because, finally,

Lord, in the filthy bar, here we are, and, finally,

Lord, here before us rises my sister like an ocean


beside the microphone while muddy lights crumble

down dirty upon the black cowboy hats of the country

band, and by brown bottles of California mud, here, the filthy


chords are about to start, and my sister saunters up

in the armor of a leather jacket, of purple lipstick, of steel teeth,

of burgundy boots, and you who are listening should hold


your breath because my sister’s got a tattoo

of a bull on the wave of her back, and she’s going

to buck you off, and she’s going to elbow you down


deep because my sister knows how long to hold you under,

and how to save you, and how to kill you, and how to tell you

someone you love is dead, someone you love is still alive.



My Heart Is a Time Machine


Another brother’s funeral has ended,

and I must take my body back

to May of 1999

to stop the sunshine,

must begin again in our hotel room

with the girl

too drunk on Wild Turkey

to stand, the girl

hoisting a full keg

of Keystone Light

up onto her shoulder,

the girl grenading the keg

through the coffee table,

the girl leaping up onto the bed,

the girl taking three fan blades

to the face

that send her somersaulting all the way

through our hotel window

and onto the sidewalk outside.

I’ll forgive you for laughing

as my friend, Devon,

and I

and the whole room are now

because my friend, Devon, and I

are twenty-five

and high

on the same pills

which will in seven months

in a different hotel room

in a different town

whisper him into a permanent sleep.

Now that we are here,

I promise to tell you the truth—

on this night

in May of 1999,

you cannot tell anyone in this room

in these bands

with these ukuleles in their arms

and these floating festival feelings they have

put into their mouths

to stop. You can never tell anyone

to stop

anything, friends, so you must forgive us,

forgive them, forgive the drunk girl

who stumbles back into the room

and waterfalls down

another slug of Wild Turkey,

the drunk girl who only wants the drummer

to love her, and you must forgive

the drummer who never will,

forgive Devon and me

so deep into a conversation about Roger Waters

we don’t notice the anger

the drunk girl gathers in her elbow

which becomes the shining purple mountain

over the drummer’s eye,

forgive us for not noticing

when their story ghosts like a landscape painting

silently into the background

of darkness

inching toward light.

Forgive us for not laughing anymore

because is this hello or goodbye,

because it is almost morning, and I’m still

uncertain, because what do Devon and I look like,

now, leaving the broken window behind?

Dawn seems to have eased out of us

something as tender

as a full head of long hair,

and I believe we are whispering

about the opening guitar solo

of the Wish You Were Here album, now,

or the album is playing

somewhere, now, and we are

sneaking so quietly

through the courtyard, Devon

and I, as the soundmen

breaking down the festival stage

wind up their cables

like kind fathers

tying their daughters’ shoes,

as the drunk girl snores

on the drummer’s lap in a pool chair,

and Devon walks in front of me

with the almost finished bottle

of Wild Turkey in one hand

we are passing between us.

There is a joint for the both of us I am licking,

and when we round the corner and stare straight

into the Pink Floyd sunrise,

forgive me, friends,

there is always an instant

every time I am telling this story

when I get here

that I want to be the one disappeared

by light who never was

because no one wants to be what’s left over,

and what’s left of this morning?

Hello or goodbye?

I seem to be saying both,

we are almost finished, and forgive me

again for going back so often, my friends,

but I need you to squeeze inside

my blood and help me remember this

final sunrise in which Devon

is taking off his shirt

and letting down the blonde rainforest

of his hair and dancing

to the music that is only in his head,

and one-by-one the waking people

are coming into the field to join him,

a flock of musician women and men

dancing barefoot circles in the dirt

to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”

playing only in my friend’s head,

and my friend Devon is spinning around

silently in the center of all of us,

playing the bottle of Wild Turkey

like a saxophone,

like a last photograph,

like a parting metaphor,

like a sentimental machine

which is in very few moments

of monumental pressure

strong enough

to stop time.



Please also see our review of Sommers’ first book, The Night We Set the Dead Kid on Fire. Continue reading “Sister/Brother Poems”