Kevin Prufer

A Story about Dying

The old cat was dying in the bushes.
Its breaths came slow, slow,
              and still
it looked out over the sweetness of the back lawn,
the swaying of tall grass in the hot wind,
the way sunlight warmed the garbage can’s
sparkling lid.
       It closed its hot eyes,
then struggled them open again.

+

In unison, the dogs explained themselves
to the passing freight train.

+

I don’t know where it’s gone,
her husband said without looking up from his paper

while she stood on the back porch shaking the food bowl,
calling one of its names.

+

All this the dying old cat observed
from beneath the bushes, its head
sideways in the grass, its fur wet where the dog
had caught it in its teeth.

+

And now there’s another train,
and the dogs are explaining themselves again.

+

The food makes that sparkling sound in the metal bowl
and the cat tries to lift its body from the grass

but it’s feeling hollowed out, empty and strange
as though it’s floating just above the tips of grass,
as if its paws barely touch the blades’ rich points.

+

Sometimes, the dogs explain themselves to each other,
or to passing cars, but mostly they address the trains.
We are powerful dogs, they say,
              but we are also good,
while the children on bikes, while the joggers,
while the vast, mysterious trains
              pass them by.

+

The cat is still drifting above the grass tips,
and the sun is so bright the yard sparkles,

and wouldn’t it be nice to rest there on the garbage can’s hot lid,
there by the potted plant, there on the car’s hood?

But it wants the food glittering in the metal bowl,
the food that, also, drifts above the grass tips.

+

And then the cat floats down the tracks,
the train’s long call a whistling in its head.

+

And the dogs explain themselves to it,
we are good dogs, good dogs,
              as the cat grows
impossibly far away, we are good dogs,
as the cat is almost a memory,

is barely a taste in the mouth
of one of the chorus.

 

 

 

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May Swenson

Digging in the Garden of Age I Uncover a Live Root

        (for E. W.)

The smell of wet geraniums. On furry
leaves, transparent drops rounded
as cats’ eyes seen sideways.
Smell of the dark earth, and damp
brick of the pots you held, tamped empty.
Flash of the new trowel. Your eyes
green in greenhouse light. Smell of
your cotton smock, of your neck
in the freckled shade of your hair.
A gleam of sweat in your lip’s scoop.
Pungent geranium leaves, their wet
smell when our widening pupils met.

 

 

 

 

Frederick Seidel

The Pierre Hotel, New York, 1946

The bowl of a silver spoon held candlelight,
A glistening oyster of gold.
The linen between us was snowblind, blinding white.
I felt a weight too light to weigh
Which was my wings.

I heard the quiet of his eyes.
I heard the candle flame stand still.
I saw the long line of her jaw become
Too beautiful to bear. I was a child.
I lifted my empty spoon and licked the light.

 

 

 

 

 

Frederick Seidel

City

Right now, a dog tied up in the street is barking
With the grief of being left,
A dog bereft.
Right now, a car is parking.

The dog emits
Petals of a barking flower and barking flakes of snow
That float upward from the street below
To where another victim sits:

Who listens to the whole city
And the dog honking like a car alarm,
And doesn’t mean the dog any harm,
And doesn’t feel any pity.

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Spires

Small as a Seed

In everything, its opposite.
In the sun’s ascendancy,
its downfall.
In darkness, light
not yet apprehended.

At night in bed, I fear the falling-off.
Though falling, I will rise.
I fear. Fall arriving now.
In any word so small, the world.
In the world I walk in, a wild wood.

 

 

 

 

Wendy Videlock

Dear Universe

In all this calm,
in all this mist,
these vague shaped

continents

begin to drift.
A finger lifts,

falls again.
A foghorn sounds,

passionless.
Do you wonder

what we are
in all this calm,
in all this mist.

Wolf prints.

Red clay.

A slender wrist.

Murder. Magic.

Ballet.

 

 

 

 

James Arthur

Children’s Book

In which a newborn cricket walks across a field,
unable to reply to the greetings of the mantis, the moth,
and the dragonfly, until his rubbing of wing on wing

becomes a sound that can speak for him. When the last page turns,
the book itself makes a chirruping. Here is the church, and the steeple.
Here is the coffee table where the child lines up a squad

of plastic people. Can the child tell the difference
between himself and other things? He totters back and forth
on a tractor mounted on a spring. Here’s the tension

of a string pulled tight, and the child’s father rolling over and over
and over in the night: the cricket book, after much rough reading,
now chirrups nightly on its own. Finally the father, knowing

what must be done, cuts into the book with a sturdy paring knife,
looking for whatever little engine, whatever little part,
makes the lifelike cricket sound. Here is the trailer, the baler,

the harrow, the plough. Can a stem grow up from inside a stone?
Here is how to sit in silence and be alone. Here’s the yard
where yesterday the child sat watching as blowing branches made

and remade daggers of light and shade. The book’s voice box,
to the father’s eye, looks like a dime-sized bicycle bell,
and as he pries it free, the chirruping intensifies,

becoming something like the death cry of a creature
with an actual beating heart; something like a metal prong
banging indifferently on another metal part.

 


 

(first published in New York Review of Books, July 2016)