beyond recall :: sharon bryan

Nothing matters
to the dead,
that’s what’s so hard

for the rest of us
to take in—
their complete indifference

to our enticements,
our attempts to get in touch—
they aren’t observing us

from a discreet distance.
they aren’t listening
to a word we say—

you know that,
but you don’t believe it,
even deep in a cave

you don’t believe
in total darkness,
you keep waiting

for your eyes to adjust
and reveal your hand
in front of your face—

so how long a silence
will it take to convince us
that we’re the ones

who no longer exist,
as far as X is concerned,
and Y, that they’ve forgotten

every little thing
they knew about us,
what we told them

and what we didn’t
have to, even our names
mean nothing to them

now—our throats ache
with all we might have said
the next time we saw them.

brief afternoons :: ira sadoff

In the brief afternoons of February,
when the whole God question comes up
like a knock on the door from Jehovah’s witnesses—
no, not like them, but really them
and their stack of newspapers and questions, swirling
in the snow—I’m cautious, impatient, defenseless.
I guard the door like St. Peter or Cerberus,
The Word before it’s written. We discuss the proof
of the snowflake, God’s design and the sin of the self.
We require uplifting because of the chill
and the solitude, because we project onto the pines
endings and beginnings, the whiteness of snow
in the darkening quill of afternoon,
where January can no longer be corrected; December’s
a parent’s perpetual death and July a child’s fairy tale.
But now they’re at my door with their gloomy accusations,
and because of the lateness of the hour,
because I have no defense, no justification
outside myself, I invite them in for tea—
together, white man and black man, the lapsed
and the saved, we watch the wind push the snow,
we listen to the woodstove chatter and whisper and hiss.

the stone :: rebecca lilly

The stone is plain and irregular, not the pure form of fire or air. A bulwark, it rests for centuries in desert ruins, or dry stream beds, or under the forest earth as a tomb. If it pokes through, like the hull of a sunboat, or the rim of a cauldron that once boiled witches’ brew, wind and rainfall eventually expose it.

For the nymph who bathes in lake waters, with her negligee of moss, it’s a movable bench, while the naturalist marvels at its bumps and crevices, as if it had a lamp behind it. “Ah, fossils and shell scraps. What to make of its pocked eyes?” wonders the naturalist, who admires its survivalist creed, “and if we read it properly, what secrets would it tell if it could speak!” Cleared of snow-melt, sun-baked on an over-look, or by a woods stream, a stone shows itself to be merely nothing more, and ages with dignity.

If an animal ingests it accidentally with its leaves or berries, it’s excreted unchanged, and fares well over the centuries, a dewed covering of ivy, moss or lichen sparkling after rain, attracting a butterfly’s fireworks. Dust motes are radiant in crevices and other hiding places when the sun strikes: praying mantises, ladybugs, snakes, toads, and other insects rest inside.

So the legend goes, wood sprites and elves will claim ownership, for a stone records the history of forest-dwellers. Before dark settled on our world, fire marked ocean floors, caverns and grottoes, now knobbed and scarred. The stone is a peephole on the cosmos, holding the sun’s heat even as it darkens–remnant of its previous life when the stone was a star.

ask me :: william stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden: and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

the rain-bow :: thomas love peacock

The day has pass’d in storms, though not unmix’d
With transitory calm. The western clouds,
Dissolving slow, unveil the glorious sun,
Majestic in decline. The wat’ry east
Glows with the many-tinted arch of Heav’n.
We hail it as a pledge that brighter skies
Shall bless the coming morn. Thus rolls the day,
The short dark day of life; with tempests thus,
And fleeting sun-shine chequer’d. At its close,
When the dread hour draws near, that bursts all ties,
All commerce with the world, Religion pours
Hope’s fairy-colors on the virtuous mind,
And, like the rain-bow on the ev’ning clouds,
Gives the bright promise that a happier dawn
Shall chase the night and silence of the grave.

what the dead know :: mark kraushaar

They know to keep quiet.
But they would tell you don’t worry.
They would tell you there’s
sloping gentle fields and a marvelous light.
They’d whisper, Mister,
take it easy, they would signal Madam, buy a hat.
They would tell you start again, rent a room, move
forward, breathe a little, read a little,
take a walk, watch your step.
They would tell you God
wears plaid pants, six-eyelet
oxfords, and a wrist watch, Helbros, gold.
They would tell you God’s
a girl in third grade knotting Her shoe.
They would tell you God’s a man with cracked glasses
mowing His yard, or He lives with Lilly,
His wife, and a son named Sal.
They would tell you He works in auto body repair
and plays the guitar.
They would tell you He’s thought up Himself,
that He thinks up botany and basketball,
eczema, mustard, and mayhem.
They would tell you He makes up the malls
and the back-alleys, the droplets, and the tiny specks
and spores, and the long, loud parties
that reach deep into the morning and mean
for someone a meeting, for someone
a mating and for someone a crashed
yellow Chevy and a trip to the joint.
They would say He makes up the frowsy freeways
and the dirty everyday, or that regarding a white cloud
in the shape of a thumbless glove, He thinks up breakfast
with bacon that sizzles and curls on itself like a lie though He
may never speak of this even to Himself.
What do the dead know?
They’ve signed on to keep quiet,
but if they could tell you they would,
and if they could they would comfort you.
They’d tell you, Go on and be happy, try it.
You would.