The Nurse's Pockets
When patients are told they're dying
they say something simple:
I've had a good life or Who will feed my cats?
It seems harder on the doctor
he waits outside the door, stalling,
until the patient confronts him.
So, Doc, they say. What's the verdict?
Soon, a nurse comes to bathe the patient.
There is only the sound of water
wrung from the warm washcloth,
the smell of yellow soap,
and the way she spends time praising
the valley of his clavicle, his hollow mouth.
Then, a morning when the patient leaves,
taking his body. The nurse finds nothing
but the bed with its depression,
its map of sheets she strips.
In the drawer, gumdrops. A comb
woven with light hair, and a book
with certain pages marked.
She takes all these into her pockets.
She has trunks in every room of her home,
full of such ordinary things.
He's lost on the new coast road,
but the inn's a cave of light
and the barmaid is out of this world.
Her lilac hair is a sea rippling
on a summer's evening.
Her breasts glow like stars
in the net of her blouse.
She places a cold beer before him,
leans into his voice, a sound
she hasn't heard in centuries.
He plays out snapshots of home,
wife and kids, a ranch down south,
peach orchards, a golden Labrador in the yard.
Bright shapes glide between
willow and cypress in her fish tank.
She pulls another beer,
whispers words in his ear.
Her voice is wind rustling
in a field of lovage.
He leans on the oak beam of her bar.
All night and years pass.
Her bed's phosphorescent with satin sheets.
He fingers the silver buckle on his belt.
The sea level rises.
Kevin Patrick Sullivan
What a gorgeous and forlorn life
this water that breaks
this sky that crumbles
these stones that add
Architects of tomorrow —
the process of light becoming dark
change movement song
all water passing
We come to each other
with our burden
needing only our bodies
its wet kisses
to soar above
the day's struggle
from this separate belief
are we not
the same as water
as the wind?
True our hearts contain fire
still it is an act of will
what it burns for
Sunday Afternoon Dialectic
The hawk in the blue loft, circling.
The hawk lofted in blue, circling.
The hawk circling in the blue loft.
While around me I heard the machinery
of birds what, trilling? from their green enclave.
And I lay back and heard them: the crickets
trilling as if about to burst from their crusty shells
and thought of Kunitz and the old willow
beating on the window pane. I looked up to see
the hawk in a throw of blue skywings trembling
on a tide of air, circle tighter and tighter,
black eyes scanning. I watched for the head to lock
and the wings to fold in that momentary pause
before the strike of lightning.
Air pools with the sound of water.
Under undulating light a figure
sluices arm over head, hand
for tighter form, a few seconds shaved.
It is the rhythm
of breath and swing, body
arrowing edge to edge, against time.
Against weight. Not the self
the somnambulist's feel for wall, or
the day returning, eyeless, lidless
as ghost fish in the greater deep.
It is the act of becoming
myth. The drawn breath, face pressed
to water. The arm lifting,
water arcing in release. Now, the ease
of slipping into the turn, the push
and kick toward surface
where light waits. Toward hands held
open, the burst of welcome.
The Dream of the Burning City
Great sheets of fire danced down the streets,
a parade of heat
seeking the inner chambers, where we could be found
hiding. We did all we could to escape,
but there would be no more running
from the veil of undoing. Tokens,
to be sure, we freed the small birds
of affection kept in cool basements,
carefully tended by loss.
This Far in August
Are wildflowers holy? Are weeds?
There's infinite hope
if both are, but perhaps not for us.
By now the bull thistles
have become legends
of defense, claiming
space among the wild daisies,
larkspur and mustard
by the simple
untouchable violence of form.
They tower over
their neighbors, guarding
their weedy plots
with a sense of drama.
Every wild weed sees this
and knows, they, too,
have put down roots;
they, too, have a stake in artifice.
Summer has crossed
its apex, every living thing
logy with heat and sunlight.
Smartweeds cling to fences,
gangs of leafy spurge
spread over the hills,
and violets, those
lovely muses, sing whenever
the wind shifts.
Every wild weed
has provided for itself
beyond the pale
of spray or blade.
Every wild weed
believes it has only one season,
one season only.
The Karner Blue butterfly,
so near extinction, does not care
about the strength
of muscled stalk and toothy leaves.
It knows only the pang
of hunger and the freedom
of a new season with wings.
The humid air
swaddles flower and butterfly.
Within days the purple whitens
with seed. Wind blows them
where they are not wanted,
but where some will,
despite the odds,
Why These Poplars are Crying
As a child he'd dream of wild horses
whinnying in the sky. He could feel the rough leather
of their reins in his hands, his godlike shoulders
gilded in sun. When news of his death
spread through the world, pilgrims came to say goodbye.
The daughters of the sun stood among them,
radiant, rooted in grief, their wind-sprung leaves
drifting toward a river no one would remember
were it not for the light trembling in the trees.
At Roughlock Falls
Here where water meets water
from the moss-covered heights
is a pool of shadows and
a blue arc smashed into mist.
Sunlight swathes the nurled orange walls
greened with lichen. Tree
and plant roots dangle from earth's-edge
in tangled braids, like witches' hair,
roots of alien vegetables, strange
eroded scalp. The sound
is a susurrous roar
of making and unmaking, the earth
having long ago lost
its fingerhold on soil over bedrock
washed downstream. It is
a quiet way, this way
of water following the ancient
earth-pull of water to water,
however many miles: dodges
through trees, arterial races
over plains, the free-form ballet
over curved and swollen lips
wherever rocks wait below
on the river's progress to the Gulf.
It is a quiet way, this way
of wateruntil, tumbling
down from the greenish heights,
it is broken and remade,
The Ghost Town at Tinton
Black angus low to the dark hills
where men once slogged home from the mine
grimed with dirt and gold, loaded
with stories from twelve hours
in the hole. It is cooler now,
the sun a burnished orange over the berm.
Their bellows shiver down spearfish canyon.
Dark as shadows they wend
dirt paths between arthritic homes
kneeling in the grass, past
the old Ford rusting on a rise
flecked with mica, past
the post office and dance hall ruins
at main streets end, straddling
two states. Though the gold is gone,
the ground gives up tantalite ore
for missiles and consumer electronics,
metal that resists corrosion. Nights
like this, when all is still, sounds can carry
for miles. Voices from a radio left on
on the top of a ridge can travel
through trees, too indistinct for love
or loss, and sift like ghostly fingers
through rotting walls where newspapers
fifty years old were once stuffed
to keep out the chill.
Where Nothing Grows
The parking lot is strewn
with the wreckage
of pumpkins, burned wood
and glass, the air
a mizzling white a-blur
with the wings of doves
fighting for pulp and mash.
If I believed in signs, Id say
this promises to be a day of need.
I move through the hours
with an eye to the glass, watching
cars scuttle by on the freeway
lambent in headlights.
The office windows tick
with sleet. Heat kicks on
while my cursor blinks
onoff onoff as though stunned.
I watch workers wilt
on the bus home, their heads
sagging in the harsh light
like poisoned dandelions.
There wasnt always this evenness
of middling light, or cold air with its brace
of winter coming. Just yesterday
there were wraiths bluing the soft lips
of wild night gardens. Woods brimmed
with strange music and slow fires, ecstacy.
There was always time so much time
for birth and rebirth, for the bees
to hum in the orchards, drowsy
with sweet-rot and sun; always time
to hold the sky by its drawstring
while clouds drifted over green fields
swallowed in slow-moving shadows;
time to build and destroy
and rebuild again just for the sheer joy
of being the demiurge. No one
believed in the death of faith, or
an end, much less the long death beyond.
The body has been at war with itself
since the first separation:
from Mother, with a lusty
yowl in the bright-lit cold
of a new room; from Spirit,
gloved in a raiment of skin.
It calls to itself in strange tongues,
says enemy, says other
and walks in the rubble
carrying the war dead, the
children charred in their play clothes.
It reaches into the dust
for the jawbone of an ass, angered
at the right hand, the hipbone
and the eye. It has known
a beginning it cannot remember,
and will know an end
it cannot see, days filled
with calumny, enmity, hands
clutching rocks, eyes lifted
skyward for the first signs of rapture.
But where is heaven? In a hollowed
on a spoon? Secreted, perhaps,
in a lacquered box with gold filigree.
A kept mistress. A new loft
built in the scooped-out belly
of the old river mill. Even now,
in the year of cranes, the tower cranes
are lined up, jibs pointing past
mounded dirt piebald with snow.
And there is a fence, always a fence,
separating the new from the old.
And here, where the theater will be,
there is one also. On one side, lighted
signs and the concrete blocks that daily
rise like castle walls out of the ashes
of time. On the other, the lot
where the homeless drink, flushed
from the woods by cold
and a clear view of retreat.
Some mornings only refuse remains,
a garbage can dragged
from the park, blackened
by fire. Smashed glass, frost-covered
and yellowed by lamps, twinkling
like stars in the hard-packed snow.
It makes me wonder if time does not
exist, as a mystic once suggested.
Maybe there are only small and grand
dramas, with their seeds of conflict.
Winter, with its top-down lock
on dimension, its
insistence on black-and-white,
is a time of consideration, of cold
felt as a slowing of blood, the blood
pulling back into the fact
of itself, circular
as the earths currents
in the slip of rotation, powered
by the same engine
that makes two four, forms
the heart and lungs, and stars
out of gaseous clouds.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the word was a name
and the name held the thing,
as saucer does its infinite home
for cup. But what are things, exactly,
when all is translated, inverted,
traveling as signals into
the brain, some Mind, not
What would it mean to doubt,
except, on the level of sign?
A blood-red cardinal descends,
wings outspread before a brilliant scrim
of snow. In the next moment
he will land and take what he needs, driven
by hunger and a gift of seeds.
For now I am content to leave him
in the air, a-blur:
a suggestion of coming
Cortney Davis' & Geri
Rosenzweig's are included in The
Poetry of Nursing. Click
here to read more poems by Geri Rosenzweig.
Patrick Sullivan is the author of one trade book FIRST SIGHT, (Mille
Grazie Press, Santa Barbara) and several chapbooks. He is co-founder and
Artistic Director of the Annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival and Corners
of the Mouth, a monthly reading series at Linnaea's Cafe since 1984. He was
the 5th Poet Laureate for the City of San Luis Obispo in 2003.
holds an MFA in Writing from Hamline University and has
published poems recently in The Massachusetts Review, Water-Stone, The
American Poetry Journal, Northeast Review, 88, Fulcrum and others, in
several anthologies, including Best New Poets 2005. His first
full-length collection, A Mnemonic For Desire, will be released
February 2006 by Ghost Road Press. He lives in the Midwest, where he
edits three candles journal and manages three candles press. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org