Stephen Haven is the author of The Last Sacred Place in North America, selected by T.R. Hummer as winner of the 2010 New American Press Poetry Prize. The book was published in March 2012. He has published two previous collections of poetry, Dust and Bread (Turning Point, 2008), for which he was named 2009 Ohio Poet of the Year, and The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks (U of New Mexico/West End Press, 2004). He is also author of the memoir The River Lock: One Boy’s Life Along the Mohawk (Syracuse UP, 2008). His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, American Poetry Review, Parnassus, Literary Imagination, Crazyhorse, Guernica, Salmagundi, Northwest Review, Image, Western Humanities Review, World Literature (Beijing), and in many other journals. He is Director of the Ashland University MFA Program in Poetry and Creative Nonfiction in Ashland, Ohio, and Director of the Ashland Poetry Press.
Whenever I am day-bruised, night-bruised,
All I have to do is tussle with my angel,
Like Jacob, hip as anyone. Already this morning,
The dislocation, the ache in my bone,
Angling for a foot of turf, digging in
For new territory—Oh Israel! Oh Canaan!—
Along that hoary line of scrimmage.
Before I crush him without hurting
A halo of his head, my chest against his chest,
The power of those wings blurring
The room we’re somehow floating above
Till it holds also you, my love,
The sheer communal bungle of our bodies,
Death itself still talking, my scarred life
Bushwacked at the slipped, trenched root,
As in Catullus’s wedding songs,
The town in some hymn for Hymen,
The groom already swollen,
The bride welling to take that loaded limit,
The chorus singing OK so now they’ll have
To stop shopping it around. Still the desire
To stuff Ipsithilla, persona non grata
In that crowd, come off together
Straight nine times, laughing, crying,
And feathered in your hair, moving forever
And nowhere near, love’s hard tack,
That clutched pivot, the angel you and me,
One tight scrum in that trinity.
The Flight from Meaning
When the double rainbow shimmered in we abandoned
The street musician, sat by the ocean side park,
Chewing taffy under those full arcs….
How fully we vanish into them, out on some
Primary edge, the temples of nothing that draw us in,
Light and air, nothing substantially there.…
Out over the harbor our still capacity for wonder.
Whatever we murmured in some ambulant pleasure
(Long in that late night the tongue-tipped ladle
Of each breast) which one of us now
Will ever remember? Like St. Louis, I thought,
Like some flipped grail, Gothic architecture,
Dwarf-making air, the lens-snared light….
In the flight from meaning no one fully escapes,
The mass of humanity neither innocent nor guilty….
Then the black and white details of us, fresh cuts
In my old family stone, our wet lithograph,
The unsubstantiated drift of the finite, the infinite,
New love standing before it, late in the summer,
Long in the drive back to where we started.
Even before they vanish, they melt into the dark
Room of us, things we long to touch,
Prosecco, bluefish, bread, rosemary sprigs steamed over
The soft anatomy of clams… And it hardly even rained,
Someone said, running to the harbor…
No promise, no meaning, not even its brother,
Edged in those sun-refracting spans
That abandoned and drew us home again.