Monday, September 1, 2008

A. E. Stallings

Explaining an Affinity for Bats

That they are only glimpsed in silhouette,
And seem something else at first—a swallow—
And move like new tunes, difficult to follow,
Staggering towards an obstacle they yet
Avoid in a last-minute pirouette,
Somehow telling solid things from hollow,
Sounding out how high a space, or shallow,
Revising into deepening violet.
That they sing—not the way the songbird sings
(Whose song is rote, to ornament, finesse)—
But travel by a sort of song that rings
True not in utterance, but harkenings,
Who find their way by calling into darkness
To hear their voice bounce off the shape of things.

-first published in Verse Daily

Variations On An Old Standard

Come let us kiss. This cannot last—
Too late is on its way too soon—
And we are going nowhere fast.
Already it is after noon,
That momentary palindrome.
The mid-day hours start to swoon—
Around the corner lurks the gloam.
The sun flies at half-mast, and flags.
The color guard of bees heads home,
Whizzing by in zigs and zags,
Weighed down by the dusty gold
They’ve hoarded in their saddlebags,
All the summer they can hold.
It is too late to be too shy:
The Present tenses, starts to scold—
Tomorrow has no alibi,
And hides its far side like the moon.
The bats inebriate the sky,
And now mosquitoes start to tune
Their tiny violins. I see,
Rising like a grey balloon,
The head that does not look at me,
And in its face, the shadow cast,
The Sea they call Tranquility—
Dry and desolate and vast,
Where all passions flow at last.
Come let us kiss. It’s after noon,
And we are going nowhere fast.

Mornings I Walk Past The First Cemetery Of Athens

Like a widow, every day the grey Dawn comes
To the Proto Nekrotapheío, and sweeps the crumbs
Of Night from tombstones, and the marble busts.
The stone cutter in his workshop contemplates,
Chisel in hand, the blank face of clean slates.
The waitress at the café mops and dusts.
A priest sits at his newspaper and tarries
Over the headlines and obituaries.
Soon, the mourners gather there to drain
The thick black liquid to the bitter grain.
At the Office of Endings, a hunched man taps his thumbs.
Four diggers play a hand of cards to kill
A little time; two withered florists fill
The old foam wreaths with new chrysanthemums.

-both poems first published in New Criterion

Amateur Iconography Resurrection

Jesus is back—he's harvesting the dead.
He's pulling them up out of the dirt like leeks—
By the scruff of the neck, by the wispy hair on the head,
Like bulbs in darkness sallowly starting to grow

From deep down in the earth where the lost things go—
Keys and locks, small change, old hinges, nails.
(That's why the living beseech the dead, who know
Where missing objects lie.) Jesus has a grip

On Adam by the left wrist—he will not slip—
And Eve, by her right. They're groggy and don't understand,
They died so long ago. With trembling lip,
Adam surveys the crowds of new people. And Eve

Looks up the emptiness of her limp left sleeve
For the hand that was unforgiven and is no more,
Ages since withered to dust, and starts to grieve
The sinister loss, recalling the heft in that hand

Of the flesh of the fruit, and the lightness at the core.

-first published in The Atlantic


What butterfly—
Brain, soul, or both—
Unfurls here, pallid
As a moth?
(Listen, here's
Another ticker,
Counting under
Mine, and quicker.)

In this cave
What flickers fall,
On the wall?

Spine like beads
Strung on a wire,
Of our desire,

Moon-face where
Two shadows rhyme,
Two moving hands
That tell the time.

I am the room
The future owns,
The darkness where
It grows its bones.

-first published in 32 Poems

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