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Joshua Poteat


Nocturne: For the Doves

On the side of a desert road
a headless dove,
its body a basket of ants,
basket of creosote stems.

To live at all is to grieve
and from what life
did we gain this trust,
awake each dawn

to find the bright air
full again,
rustle and coo
in the widening palms?

Nocturne: For the River

I can't bear to be forgotten by any more people,
and walking home under these anonymous street lamps

it would be easy to slip under the cobblestones
and sleep away the nights, comfortable and alone.

Even the street lamps have forgotten me,
forgotten how to give their light,

the sickly powder orange of a child's mouth
full of aspirin is all they can muster now. It's sad,

yes, but it's also a little too...participatory.
There's no avoiding them, no resemblance

to the living, to the morning light they mimic.
There's a Buddhist proverb:

Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world,
and I've tried, believe me, smiling the pink smile

of a lamb, a quarter in a blind girl's cup,
but does it mean to breathe in this airy version

of asbestos or to keep walking these streets,
smashing each light to reclaim some small, hidden

memento from a time when there was hope?
Tonight, a south wind brings me the scent

of the tobacco plant across the river,
and the bread factory a few blocks away

has given up its loaves to the air,
which redeems us in a way, I think,

for redemption is nothing more
than a breaded wind pulling a night from frailty.

Tell me, Robert E. Lee, of the hundred-year sleep,
of mice skulls in owl dung, your bronze head

bearing the weight of catacombs hidden
in the itch of amputees, gas-lit, forlorn.

Tell me, J.E.B. Stuart, that everything will be o.k.,
that your horse is facing north because

she misses the snowy fields.
Tell me, sad horse, with doves nesting

under your raised hoof, in this century of longing,
how can I go on loving this ruined excuse for a city,

sleepy-sweet night, sweet cicada,
sweet oak, sweet old nothing?

Sad-eyed Matthew Brady, come down to me
from your glass-plated heaven of iodine,

from your tent-city of wagons in a muddy field
where my apartment building now stands,

years of smoke rising between us,
and watch the reflection of crows

roost far below the water in the tulip trees
as Whitman did once after the war,

from a skiff in the shallows of the James,
pale gold, the play of light

coming and going, bats and thrushes
alive with stars, woven over the musical trees

and over the past, over the milky blossoms
of wild carrot, or, oblivion.

And so, like the river in the distance
humming the trestle-song of night trains,

its skin seeming to hold twilight, delay it,
I stand among these street lamps

a forgotten man, and let the South's last summer
rise up and consume me.

Nocturne: For the Aviaries

Then the rain came,
full of a sadness I've never seen before,
through the cottonwoods
and along the river,
which is no longer a river
but an apparition under the sand.

Had I five hummingbirds,
I would make a love charm
and string them from the clap
of a small copper bell in those branches,
necks hovered together, broken.

Had I a swan, it would sleep
under the hives
with a bucket of fresh milk,
with the splintered white faces of goats.

To reclaim or take apart the night,
like the city does, carving through
the blind river?
The brilliant debris of stars, the air?

Nothing in this world is ours.

                                      -from Ornithologies

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