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Two poems by Bruce Spang

X Marks the Heart

My best friend called his former wife his “X”

as if, by divorcing her, he’d rendered her

to a box on a tax form that only needed

an X, or had to be left blank, which is how he felt

about his X, Mary. She lived a mile from

him, on a cul-de-sac, second from last,

a two-story ranch with four bedrooms,

an expansive porch that faced a creek

demarcating the back property. They’d

lived there for decades, long enough

to raise two children, send them off

to college, long enough for him to be

sick of her constant complaints—

his forgetfulness, his socks being left

inside out, his leaving the checkbook

unbalanced. Maybe X was what he’d

done for years whenever she’d snap,

“Do you know how to turn off the lights?”

He blotted her off the page, not even

turning to acknowledge her. It was as if

he’d typed a line in a letter before computers

could obliterate a wrong word or a phrase

poorly said, by hitting one key xxxxx

to x it out. His X. Not love OOO,

not kisses XXX, Maybe he doesn’t

wonder why, when I talk to Mary,

she calls him David and speaks

with a certain nostalgia for the days

they were a family. Maybe for him

it’s all about cutting off a quarter

of his life like amputating a limb,

like wishing away the guilt he

can’t dispel, his unlove as a way

outside himself, an attestation

to his being free to not love,

a X to mark a life he can’t let go.

All the Dead

daffodils, their blossoms wilted,

curled like frail stick legs of the dying.

How many of them a week ago

made pedestrians stop and gawk?

I feel a remorse well deep inside

me as deep as the descants

of whales. Whatever bent them

down, told them “it’s finished”

seems not right. I had scooped a hole

six inches deep and dropped them

bulb by blub expecting exuberance—

the swell and root riot, the stem and blush

of yellow, white-yellow, orange-pink,

doubled, singled, efflorescence

my only thought, not this slack I’m-

done-with-this. It must be a mistake—

this abrupt end, its mute undeniability,

it’s-over. They drop all pretense of loveliness,

one day, and the next, they’re done. Even

earthworms make faint staccato sounds

grieving, letting each other know on

the drenched road in their suicidal

squirming to escape the waterboarding

plips of rain. I pick them up, coiled

muscular knots and slip them back to

earth, denying death as best I can

like it wasn’t even mentioned,

never part of God’s plan.

Bruce Spang, former Poet Laureate of Portland, is the author of two novels, The Deception of the Thrush and Those Close Beside Me. His most recent collection of poems, All You’ll Derive: A Caregiver’s Journey, was just published. He’s also published four other books of poems, including To the Promised Land Grocery and Boy at the Screen Door (Moon Pie Press) along with several anthologies and several chapbooks. He is the poetry and fiction editor of the Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine. His poems have been published in Connecticut River Review, Puckerbrush Review, Café Review and other journals across the United States. He teaches courses in fiction and poetry at Ollie at University of North Carolina in Asheville and lives in Candler, NC with his husband Myles Rightmire and their five dogs, five fish, and thirty birds.

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