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Four poems by John A. Nieves

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

sign here.

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.

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