mercifulserpent: (Default)
Pursuit, by Stephen Dobyns

Each thing I do I rush through so I can do
something else. In such a way do the days pass -
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.
Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited. And why?
What treasure do I expect in my future?
Rather it is the confusion of childhood
loping behind me, the chaos in the mind,
the failure chipping away at each success.
Glancing over my shoulder I see its shape
and so move forward, as someone in the woods
at night might hear the sound of approaching feet
and stop to listen, then, instead of silence
he hears some creature trying to be silent.
What else can he do but run? Rushing blindly
down the path, stumbling, struck in the face by sticks;
the other ever closer, yet not really
hurrying or out of breath, teasing its kill.
mercifulserpent: (Default)
How Could You Ever Be Fine
for S.C.

I dreamt last night I heard someone speak your name,
two women talking about you and I went to them
and asked about you and they gave me your number.
So I called you and we talked and you said
you were fine, and I doubted it was really you,
because how could you ever be fine? What have
twenty years done to you? Where are you now?
You had the smoothest skin, a face like a beautiful
wax figure as you moved from one messed-up man
to another. There was one who used to shoot up
Jack Daniel's, and when I told him that was stupid,
he said, That's right, I'm stupid, I'm really stupid,
somebody should kill me! Until I said it actually
wasn't so stupid just to calm him. But all those men
who hit you and abused you and how you explained
they must have been right or else they wouldn't
have done it. I was too tame, didn't stick myself
with pins or know the names for all the drugs,
and had a vague idea of what I wanted to do
next week, next year. You would listen with one
black eye swollen half shut, then go back to the guy
who had done it so he could blacken the other.
I remember you told me how your mother had said
it was your duty to love her, and you shouted, No,
and kept shouting no. And when she died you felt glad,
but years later I took you to one funeral director
after another so you could find her ashes.
You said you wanted to talk to her, a beautiful
woman telling her troubles to a cardboard box.
Then you would sprinkle her ashes into the canal
and feel something, you weren't sure what, maybe
just done with something, the sense that something
was over. But either we couldn't find the right
funeral director or the ashes were already gone,
and that night you went back to the man who beat you,
and shortly after that you slipped out of my life--
a few cards, a few phone calls, then nothing.
Right now you are either out there or you're not--
smoking a cigarette, touching a sore place, looking
from the window and letting all the old faces
drift across your mind. It is hard to think of you
dowdy and forty, the problems you dealt with, a life
of some sort on track, hard to think of you making it
past twenty-five. At least in books we know the end,
know the characters died or got married, had great
success or failure. But you are out there someplace,
and your friend who shot up the Jack Daniel's,
and the guy I took the knife away from,
and the other who wanted to be a writer,
and the girl who quit school to have a baby,
and another girl who smashed the doors of my truck
on an acid trip. They are all out there, just
putting one foot in front of another, just like
the torturers are out there, and the men who worked
on firing squads, and the men who like to hit things
just to hurt them. And you are out there too,
picking your way between the paper, the tin cans,
the broken glass. You had the most wonderful smile.
On whom does it shine now, who does it welcome?
People on hard streets dragged to inevitable ends.
mercifulserpent: (Default)
Pastel Dresses // Stephen Dobyns
Like a dream, when one
becomes conscious of it
becomes a confusion, so her name
slipped between the vacancies.

As little more than a child
I hurried among a phalanx
of rowdy boys across a dance floor --
such a cluttering of black shoes.

Before us sat a row of girls
in pastel dresses waiting.
One sat to the right. I uttered
some clumsy grouping of sounds.

She glanced up to where I stood
and the brightness of her eyes
made small explosions within me.
That's all that's left.

I imagine music, an evening,
a complete story, but truly
there is only her smile and my response --
warm fingerprints crowding my chest.

A single look like an inch of canvas
cut from a painting: the shy complicity,
the expectation of pleasure, the eager
pushing forward into the mystery.

Maybe I was fourteen. Pressed
to the windows, night blossomed
in the alleyways and our futures
rushed off like shafts of light.

My hand against the small of a back,
the feel of a dress, that touch
of starched fabric, its damp warmth --
was that her or some other girl?

Scattered fragments, scattered faces --
the way a breeze at morning
disperses mist across a pond,
so the letters of her name

return to the alphabet. Her eyes,
were they gray? How can we not love
this world for what it gives us? How
can we not hate it for what it takes away?
mercifulserpent: (Default)
How Could You Ever Be Fine by Stephen Dobyns

I dreamt last night I heard someone speak your name,
two women were talking about you and I went to them
and asked about you and they gave me your number.
So I called you and we talked and you said
you were fine, and I doubted it was really you,
because how could you ever be fine? What have
twenty years done to you? Where are you now?
You had the smoothest skin, a face like a beautiful
wax figure as you moved from one messed-up man
to another. There was one who used to shoot up
Jack Daniel’s, and when I told him that was stupid,
he said, That’s right, I’m stupid, I’m really stupid,
somebody should kill me! Until I said it actually
wasn’t so stupid just to calm him. But all those men
who hit you and abused you and how you explained
they must have been right or else they wouldn’t
have done it. I was too tame, didn’t stick myself
with pins or know the names for all the drugs,
and had a vague idea of what I wanted to do
next week, next year. You would listen with one
black eye swollen half shut, then go back to the guy
who had done it so he could blacken the other.
I remember you told me how your mother had said
it was your duty to lover her, and you shouted, No,
and kept shouting no. And when she died you felt glad,
but years later I took you to one funeral director
after another so you could find her ashes.
You said you wanted to talk to her, a beautiful
woman telling her troubles to a cardboard box.
Then you would sprinkle her ashes into the canal
and feel something, you weren’t sure what, maybe
just done with something, the sense that something
was over. But either we couldn’t find the right
funeral director or the ashes were already gone,
and that night you went back to the man who beat you,
and shortly after that you slipped out of my life—
a few cards, a few phone calls, then nothing.
Right now you are either out there or you’re not—
smoking a cigarette, touching a sore place, looking
from a window and letting all the old faces
drift across your mind. It is hard t think of you
dowdy and forty, the problems dealt with, a life
of some sort on track, hard to think of you making it
past twenty-five. At least in books we know the end,
know the characters died or got married, had great
success or failure. But you are out there someplace,
and your friend who shot up the Jack Daniel’s,
and the guy I took the knife away from,
and the other who wanted to be a writer,
and the girl who quit school to have a baby,
and another firl who smashed the doors of my truck
on an acid trip. They are all out there, just
putting one foot in front of another, just like
the torturers are out there, and the men who worked
on firing squads, and then men who like to hit things
just to hurt them. And you are out there too,
picking your way between the paper, the tin cans,
the broken glass. You had the most wonderful smile.
On whom does it shine now, who does it welcome?
People on hard streets dragged to inevitable ends.

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