Page 4 of 5
Martin Cockroft's recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Review and Prairie Schooner. He teaches at Waynesburg University.
Their eyes are drained wine glasses
so they wear shades
or they take out their eyes
or they take out yours.
The wind widens them like sails
then sucks the flesh from them.
On sunny days their lips swell like a hive of bees.
They splash their faces with formaldehyde
and wear black shoes
to hide light pissing from their toes.
They cannot hold in their bones.
They buy greatcoats and woolen hats,
seam their sleeve ends shut,
and still bones slip to the ground
or twist into the air
like leaf stems
or lost cigarette papers.
They are mistaken for flags limp on porch rails.
They sleep in subway murals
and postal drop boxes.
They corner like a dream.
If you stare too long at one of them
your lungs will fill with tears.
What is this love
hot as the brow of a fevered child
that eludes them?
What is it that moves them to an unfamiliar city
that always turns out to be their own?
Photograph, Arizona, 1914
The well is dry, and the women
who once drew water are stones
silent as those who lived before them:
mothers and daughters heaped into cairns
or walled to pen up sheep and goats,
the oldest, mothers of us all, strewn
as scree down the slope of a wash
which is nothing but a trickle of white sand.
Their husbands are near: coyote rib,
split seed of a prickly pear, carapace
of scorpion or assassin bug—it depends.
The well is dry and at night what the ancients
called heavens is most of earth, too—
stippled torso of stars, cold that cored
every human who walked this place.
They aren’t here now and won’t be again.
The footpath is indistinct, trace of dust
in broken clay spread far as Winslow
or Window Rock, wherever ruin
is less complete. One afternoon
when men were off rumbling to themselves,
just thunder, a stranger asked for a dip
of water. The women are stones,
their husbands are bone, and the stranger
holds the horizon, a long, blue sleeve of rain.
Summer Storm over an Abandoned Tent
When I left, I left for good.
But of the girl in New Braunfels
the day our camp washed out, the day
after a night of fire: ants falling from hissing wood,
sticks poked through empties, and later
after we drifted off, across the park, a man
flame-edged, dancing to “Brass Monkey.”
This was the day before we’d see a biker
shake out a mummy bag and sleep in it
fifteen straight hours. The girl—
no older than I, working tables
at a downtown café. Her hair the gloss
and color of high-backed pews:
oak grain, gummed varnish, black veins.
Her hair pinched with a pencil, yellow #2,
like the one scribbling orders
from boys back from college, Texas
and out-of-state, public and private.
What I knew of love fit on the flit of an eyelash.
My friends talked tubing downriver,
top five underrated lead singers,
but did they notice her apron, blue as a lupine,
dusted with flour, did they see how busy she stayed
grooving floor from kitchen to refill, kitchen
to register, how she never smiled,
eyes kind and distant, a girl with dreams
in a town built at the toe of escarpment, springs
rimming into cold streams, Comal, Guadalupe.
We had not showered in three days.
She didn’t come with birdsong, a spray of stars
dipping from her collared blouse. She moved
as if she tended horses, slow when she ought to be,
straightforward, patient, no pinging ballerina
or donna of the pep squad. She could have played piano . . .
and that’s where we part: When I left, I left for good,
tip under salt, napkin weighed by a wet ring.
A Day of Mourning
Children tug on tall
black tights. Charge ahead
and stop just shy.
They putter. Whistle or try.
Jump in tandem,
losing what they collected:
acorns, small stones, dry
beans they carried from home.
Children walk to church
on a day of mourning
and walk home again.
We must invest in deep water channels.
We must invest in windmills
Where are our wigwams?
We must support new methods of singing:
We should convert corn farms
to song farms
and to growing the best eyes
money can buy. We must invest in flowers—
flowers that look like stars,
that bloom like flies
and linger all winter
even in the deepest snow.
We must renew sparkle and glow.
Our uniforms are drab;
we need baubles and sequins,
with assorted beaks,
but only from birds that died of old age:
We must not be careless with life.
We must invest in dairy creams
and in pasties and pies, all that is
powdered and puffed.
We should ensure individual allotments
of candor and uncertainty.
We must invest in ceremony,
in old fashioned ways of making meaning
and in really good magic—
in one fish that becomes a dozen,
in one bed that becomes one-hundred,
in a house that sleeps us all.
We must find a spell
to change a rain of fire
into pastel confetti.
We must invest in anything that whinnies
or twitches its nose
or sheds light when it is cut.
We should insist on new mountains.
We should pay for dancers
and when they age and need new bones
they should receive new bones.
We must invest in time to watch clouds coalesce
and pull apart.
We must value clarity
and produce more people who are clear.
For these investments we must have a proliferation
of pockets: pockets for money,
for marbles and mice and other small things.
We all must give a little.