Friday Jul 20

BenskoJohn John Bensko is the author of one collection of short stories (Sea Dogs, Graywolf Press) and  three books of poetry: Green Soldiers (Yale UP), selected by Richard Hugo as the winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize; The Waterman’s Children (U of Massachusetts P); and The Iron City (U of Illinois P).  He teaches in the MFA creative Writing Program at the University of Memphis, along with his wife, the fiction writer Cary Holladay.
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Western Vista: Hudson River School
 
 
Before I learned the change of land,
how seas erode the shore, lakes fill,
steep peaks wear to sand,
mountains were safe, permanent.
 
West from this ridge,
the shadow of the next range
darkens its rust-red ledge.
The gray hills repose like tips
 
of buried knees. They dissemble into mist
and cloud. Human, fragile, alone.
The vain grandeur persists—
the false eternity we need to feel.
 
Although to look on the valley
of green trees in summer, and the river
here and there coming free of their canopy
to meander through a meadow, leaves me
 
in awe, beyond lies another range.
Beyond that, I guess. Distances
haunt the fading light. Strange
idols await. Evolutions we fear
 
to understand. To the west, men pray
digging out another’s intestines
and twisting him around a tree.
Pain becomes the land’s dare to worship.
 
In the nearby meadow, the pack animals
graze. The tinkle of bells around their necks
wards off bears that haunt the trail.
Paint is silent. The brush along the canvas
 
leaves no more than a whisper. Still
the finished canvas must claim a voice,
find the water in its clattering fall
over rocks, and know the sigh
 
the wind makes as it cuts
across the bark of a dead tree.
At the cliff’s edge, a person waits,
watches, listens. Change. Even in a painter’s
 
world, the sun will fall. The river
valley will darken. The trees
in their blue cast of haze will hover
above my camp as if to wrap the stars
 
around me. Above the leaves, heaven
cuts through eyelids.
It paints the body human
into the unseen gorges of the earth.
 
 
 
Scrimshaw
 
 
Teeth are risky maps. As idle fingers try
to carve their way home, the intended’s
 
breast curves to the whale’s
destructive lash and the hull’s last
 
making for the deep. Desire, an art
like others taken from below,
 
pulled bloody from jaws, sawn
and polished, will not give up
 
its other lovers too.
Dreams of island flesh
 
grow elaborate, until their place must be
the waves. Toward a sea floor
 
littered with teeth and bone, the exotic
face drifts down. It joins
 
the pressure of night. No one,
not even he himself, can know
 
where a man has been. The gnarling
of his hands makes them search
 
for what they are in what they carve.
 
 
 
November Frost
 
 
What the boy saw lifted by its hind legs
with ropes thrown across a low limb
was not human. It cried
 
when its throat was cut
in every human cry he’d ever heard.
Drained of blood and scraped of hair
 
by the knife in his father’s hand
running over shank and back,
lifting the bristles in a black hedge,
 
it is no longer there. It is not
anywhere. It becomes the smoke
curling from the curing shed.
 
So he listens. His brother breathes
gently in sleep. His father and mother moan
beyond the wall in their creaking bed.
 
He opens his eyes and expects
the hanged terror. He knows it better
than the people who surround him
 
where frost risen through the day
hovers in a spreading halo
around the full white moon.