Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Hard Country" by Joe Bolton

"It is, even now, a hard country to live in.

Full summer is invisible fire under cypresses
Dying of thirst,
And you think of the dog days it got too hot
To do much else but sit and sweat
And watch the ground bake till it cracked.

Or, wintering, it could be the New World:
The empty duskward distances
And killing promise of mow.
You still remember the night it fell to fifteen below.
You were sitting at the kitchen table,
Ten years old,
A blanket on your lap and a bowl
Of snow cream in front of you.
Your mother was stoking the stove.
You saw, through the window, the west field
Silvered with snow and starlight. Saw
The figure of your father crossing the field,
And the load he carried curled in his arms:
A calf that had picked a bad night for being born.
He brought it in to warm by the stove,
Red ice of afterbirth melting into pools
And the poor thing’s ears already frozen off.

Now, in autumn, walking the long mile
Back from the empty mailbox,
You can see the place, what’s left of it:
Two Plymouths and a ‘34 Ford
Squat rusting, wheelless, home
To broken tools and rotten clothes, mice.
Gray barns and outbuildings lean graying.
And the white house is white
Only in memory,
For the photographs, too, have faded.
Back of the smokehouse, from limp fur, the skull
Of an eaten raccoon grins skyward.
You wonder if there was ever any glory to be had here,
And if not, then why, for two hundred years,
Anybody has bothered....

A hard country to live in, yes,
But not a hard country in which to find
A place to drown oneself.
You think of water, of the names
Of water: Sinking River. Rough River Lake,
South Fork of the Panther.
And all of it flowing Ohioward, Gulfward.

For water everywhere rages to be with other water;
Or, held isolate in ponds, in the hoofprint
Of the thousand-pound heifer after rain,
Reflects the utter emptiness of sky.

And water is as empty as sky, only
Easier to fall into,
Heavier to breathe."

Looking Through Your Eyes

I remember seeing it through your eyes,
my country,
as for the first time.

The tight colorless street
where I grew up
choking with people,
_____now covered with a dust
_____sinful as only humanity is.

I remember looking up
as you raised your head
at buildings that resembled
pockmarks on the face of God.
_____They now rest in pieces
_____on the streets
_____and the face of God
_____is nowhere to be seen.

I remember meeting my family
in you,
sprawling, loud and insuppressible,
spreading over the table like a headache
that shouldn’t be cured.
_____Now the table lies naked,
_____all the colors of the vegetables
_____turned black.
_____Even the flies recoil.

I remember climbing the shoulders of the mountain,
the plain spreading behind us,
patchy and still,
and the valley round the corner,
yawning wide,
like the mouth of heaven.
_____Now it doesn’t shed a tear for us.
_____It had been there when it all began,
_____when men fell from grace
_____and ate each other.

(Originally posted on July 28, 2006)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"The Return" by Joe Bolton

And when, finally, you found your way back,
It seemed you barely recognized the place—
Or rather, the place barely recognized you.
. . .
But visiting friends, their faces both the same
And not the same, you realized how the loss
Of a common language could undo the world:

How the sky over each landscape contained
The blueprints of a city that might rise
When all your generation had gone away,

And how lovers were, in the end, reduced
To the sounds of names, the flesh utterly forgotten.
And it seemed then that you'd come all this way

Only to pass unnoticed through the place,
Driving fast down dangerous, familiar roads
Like a shadow you had cast years before.

Friday, June 15, 2018

I Thought We Were

To friends departed too early

I thought we were endless,
raging against the night,
laughing life in the face,
and running.

I thought we were shameless,
masters of our indolence,
wasting time like we owned it,
and yawning.

I thought we were spotless,
dazzling and daring,
dreaming of one day,
and dashing.

I thought we were painless...

I thought we were later:
first grandparents,
then parents,
then us.

I thought we were future,
till the past piled on,
today slipped by,
and now…

I think we are naked,
humbled and defenseless,

standing in the wind, and bowing,
seeing for the first time our culling

what remains of us, scattered
and huddled, and hoping…

Originally posted on Friday, October 05, 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2018


To the new Syracuseans
“You going to the snow, don’t you want to return?
Call out for them in the rain, oh wolf, perhaps they might hear…”

-Talal Haydar, from “Wahdoun (Alone)

They cross over, armed with the night on their wings,
the night laden with the smell of mint, and cardamom,
and air thick with company.

They cross over, chests brimming with song,
lips parted just so, enough for words to escape,
words whispered right before they turned the corner,
looking behind one more time
at the world as it was,
at their faces, brave and adoring,
and hopeful.

They cross over with names written on their hands,
smearing at the touch of nearly everything,
leaving smudges of people on door frames, and kitchen counters,
and all over bathroom mirrors, fogging up with hazy eyes,
trickling down, dewy and damp,
and dancing.

They cross over, feathers frozen,
into roads open wide, like mouths yawning into the sky
and shivering;
into hills, green and empty, and missing things
and people, and chatter—
not echoes, resounding and rambling…

Cross back
to where the days are dazzling
and the nights are blinding,
and in the chaos of the streets
and in the fear, and the noise,
life throbs louder than peace.

Cross back
to where despair lives in hope…

Originally posted on August 14, 2007