Saturday Apr 13

Huff Steve Huff teaches writing at Rochester Institute of Technology, and in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College. He is director of adult education at the Writers & Books literary center in Rochester, NY. His most recent book of poems is More Daring Escapes (Red Hen, 2008) A collection of stories, A Pig in Paris (Big Pencil Press), was also published in 2008.

My town was built from bone
of cow, pig & moon,
bone of ventricle & vestibule
& bell at mass, bone of
drugstore, bull bone
of pleasure fondled in a barn,
bone of break & weep,
of keening vacuum sweeper,
cigarette lit
when a bone goes
wrong or especially right,
tractor grinding its hollow
starter-bone on a foggy before-dawn,
my own bone trying to belong
as the bar shuts down & every-
body goes home
to dream of a little flesh.


I drank espresso with friends all evening,

then lay awake all night, my blood

luminous like the Electric Man at the fair:

his hair on end, crackling handshake,

never sleeping. You know this pyre:

some nights coffee keeps you lit,

or it might be debt, a biopsy,

dropsy.  I saw a man snoring

at a coffee counter in Missouri, half-way

to California, unaware his car

was burning in the lot outside, sirens

haunting his dream as if he were tied

to a mast.  There is no safe boat in sleep,

no merrily-merrily anywhere, no vestal

handmaids of slumber.

You sleep what sleep you can find,

envy the mouse crawling under

a matt of leaves, while night voices

crowd your own bed with flashlights,

with a cup of coffee, with a couple unpaid

invoices, the whole rabble of complaints.

The Death of a Fiction Student
It’s haunting as hell when a student dies.

Last night they flashed Ali’s face again on TV.

Investigators had decided that he’d caused

The blaze that devoured the house

Killing another student along with himself

By not tending the fireplace in his room.

Somewhere I’ve got a box of stories that students

Didn’t want returned at the end of the term.

One is by Ali: the usual phantasm of spaceships

And dragons—the dream-anodynes

Of technical students. I ask them for urgency

And energeia and they give it to me

In mytho-galactic carnage. He listened to my lectures

(One remembers such details), but he turned

In his projects late. He missed some classes

As most do; he worried and talked

To me about it, like many. I gave him a B.

I saw a photo in the paper of his parents huddled

In horror outside the charred house amid shadows

That such fires leave long after they’re doused,

And I understood they’d come hundreds

Of miles because the expository report

Is no substitute for being shown, even if seeing

Would ruin them. That is the way we are,

We who love anyone, the readers of our

Own tragedies. Ali had been drinking,

But it was all right: The term was almost over,

Absences no longer mattered. He’d lit

His fireplace shortly after one a.m.

And lay down to a narrative of dream. Flames

Immolated his ten-by-ten room as if a dragon

Had breathed into his window. A senseless

Denouement, I would have told him. There’s no

Recognition in this ending, Ali. Write it over.


The Conspiracy
It’s his last night and I know it, and he doesn’t.

His suitcase is packed in the living room

but he hasn’t noticed. He’s already

irked Mom into one stroke, the next

will probably kill her. So, while the sun reddens

I drive my father around town one last time,

then he’s going away.

You want ice cream, I ask. No, he says.

So like a hundred other nights, I turn

onto Bloomingdale Road toward the reservation,

the one place where people won’t

ride our bumper at twenty miles per hour.

Even then he says, Slow down, I can’t see anything

when you’re speeding. We stop and buy cheap

reservation gas, then wander until

he’s tired enough to leave Mom alone,

then I’ll drive him back home. Some miles away

orderlies are already stripping a stiff bed,

and remaking it with sheets stamped with

the numbers of cold category, a woman is typing

his d.o.b., religion, and his color

in triplicate for admission onto an island

of old soldiers who don’t know why they’re

marooned together or when their boat

is coming back. I turn up another road,

keeping that damned sunset at our backs.

In the morning my brother

and I will be at his door. One of us will pick

up the suitcase. The other will jingle the keys.