To Sampson from the Back Porch
Dear Mr. Hat, How do we talk now
across this path from renovated to American
burnweed bed to worn to newer? It’s hard to say
if the same wind hushed the same loblolly
needles nightly into morning. It’s harder to say
furnace without fire. Where did the cats sleep?
In what crack? Under which floor? The brick
stack hides clouds like clouds hide. All alone
in the sky, a shrine to molten iron and what fell
from it and what stayed: you. Not your shoes. Not
the company. Not the century. Here in the whiskers
and wavyleaf basketgrass where you should be
sleeping, where the long alphabet of your body
should translate directly into this ground, more
yours than Maryland’s, more you than place. If
you could call them all, every hungry mew, every
smoky ear or alligator eye, would you name
them again or love them as one body, as the one
thing you couldn’t keep in place?
New Release (Fortuna Minor)
Once a song I wrote took
a vacation to the headwaters
of the Mississippi and was
surprised none of its notes
or glints or droplets had any
urge to go to sea. The ground
there was lovely—a rocky
loam flecked with mica and the trees
stretch their arms up to the rain
waiting to fall to find roots
to point it back to where it came
from. Which is the point. The song
came back to my fingers and my mouth.
It roosted proud but refused
the microphone or the tape
recorder and the last line became
a long, slow inhalation, ended
with closed lips, still hands.
Charge Slip (Cauda Draconis)
In the hotel windows there
are piles of light dripping
slowly down the blurred
faces, the living transitions
of home to away to home.
The sun comes satisfied
with the friction
of the night. If anything is
born of it, it is
this: these little marks insisting
they exist as pixel and paper
and breath—the raw stuff
of songs and sagas, the names
we say to ourselves
in the dimmest dreamlight
the half green, half purple
halo of the just extinguished
world. And the roads have
too much to say about it
in their swan-wing swish.
They say it to the red-
head at the desk: just
enter anything. They are gone before
you file it. They are gone before
the sheen of your hair reaches
their retinas. The instant
coffee lasts so much longer
it seems a monument to those
who have passed before it.
You have passed
before it. I have passed before
it. The steam hangs longer than
our memories in this lobby,
on this well worn carpet
on this spot on this map that most
eyes will never even try to find.
Happy birthday anniversary fourth
of July holidays day
off soup of the day. Please
And the First to Fall Was the Poet
The sap, thick and white, sears
skin with suppurated kisses, clings
in opalescent flakes and takes
the flesh apart. The sap, the blood.
The blood, penny-flecked
and coagulating, drowns the leaf,
starves the plant. Cuts its link
to the sun. The blood, the light.
The light, the soft current, the chiseler
of every bust, the tinter of each
illumination. Teaches letter to eyes
so eyes can mouth. The light, the sound.
The sound, the other way we know
each other, our accents, the tempo
and intensity of laughter, the whistled
pitch through fletching. The sound, my own,
echoing down this wall.
John A. Nieves has poems forthcoming or recently published in journals such as: North American Review, Crazyhorse, Southern Review, Harvard Review and Massachusetts Review. He won the Indiana Review Poetry Contest and his first book, Curio, won the Elixir Press Annual Poetry Award Judge’s Prize. He is associate professor of English at Salisbury University and an editor of The Shore Poetry. He received his M.A. from University of South Florida and his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri.