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Category archive for: James Arthur

Independence

We are famous friends, here to get drunk,

stoned, here for the fireworks,

the night of Independence Day.

Ovals spawning xeroxed ovals across a gassy sky,

each boom pursuing its fiery halo. Happy marriage!

someone cries. I do, I don’t,

I might someday. Here’s to the stars and bars!

To my bed, and you having nowhere else to go—

bring a kiss, not your clothes… To the sky!

bright as a bottle shard… To optimism,

and all the states, even the boring ones.

I know you… the skin graft on your cheek,

your lost dog, your can’t-sleep. I might as well

be your own hand. Jesus Christ!—

take off his ring, keep it off,

and put a ring on me.

from Charms Against LightningFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 James Arthur
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Vertigo

beneath the sleeve

the clock face

mooning   the un-

rewinding

arms’ twelve points

twelve equal

though unequal-seeming

hours   the short

hand’s cycle equal

to half

the earth’s own

diurnal reversal   as

if stars

were gestures   as if

by navigation   as if

a message

other than the eye

finding itself

o   i

miss you

from Charms Against LightningFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 James Arthur
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

In Defense of the Semicolon

No semicolons. Semicolons indicate relationships that only idiots need

defined by punctuation. Richard Hugo

But it’s a reassuring logic that rivers freeze

because your hemisphere has rolled away from the sun,

that cities rest because there must be time for resting.

I could never deny it, or disown my desire

for the certainty of home, for mills and reservoirs

I always come back to. I’m thinking of a girl

pinning butterflies through her bangs, the first woman

I ever asked to marry me. She was slight and strange;

her brother lived in England, and was dying there.

Years after our split, she and I met in an open-air restaurant

crowded with chatter and cigarettes. I was still very young,

still afraid of being abandoned at the terminal.

She no longer ate; she had lost teeth and some hair,

she said. There were pale islands of skin

where the butterflies had perched. The waiter came around

to refill our coffee, a phone was ringing, and fifty feet away

streetcars jostled like dusk nudging against darkness;

even between those two there are gangways:

movable bridges ship-to-shore, small therefores.

from Charms Against LightningFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 James Arthur
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

The Land of Nod

Growing up, I barely knew the Bible, but read

and reread the part when Cain drifted east

or was drawn that way, into a place of desolation,

the land of Nod, there to begin, with a wife

of unknown origin, another race of men,

under the mark of God. As a boy, I thought Nod

would be a place where the blue scilla

would bloom gray, a country of the rack and screw,

the serrated sword, where the very serving cups

were bone. As a grown man, I’ve heard that Nod

never was a nation—of Cain’s offspring, or anyone—

but a mistranslation of “wander,” so Cain

could go wherever, and be in Nod. Far more

than in God, I believe in Cain, who destroyed

his own brother, and therefore in any city

could have his wish, and be alone.

from Charms Against LightningFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 James Arthur
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

At Klipsan Beach

The sea marks time like a sundial’s arm,

steadily extending its reach.

Crawling back, it vomits on the beach—

jellyfish as violet as violets.

My whiskey, a soft amber, floating ice.

We are, and then we aren’t;

that’s the mortal art.

I stood dying at the ocean’s side

to dream up only this.

What could I do but make my shape?

I stake my shadow to this place.

from Charms Against LightningFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 James Arthur
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Bucephalus, Charging

Riding over Persia

on titanium hooves, my gallop

tearing up the DMZ,

I stomp down a refinery, trail a scat

of incinerated cars, running

from my shadow

as I strike at the sun. One brown eye,

one blue. I’m star-marked…

my barding, bulletproof.

I’m the noise of a wedding

on fire. Bombed-out tenements

quake as I pass. In my blinders

and heavy headstall, I smell

petroleum burning and hear

a high-winding cry.

from Charms Against LightningFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 James Arthur
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Drinking Song

She and her hat came over

She crossed her legs in the sun

her sheer hands

in the gloves they love they wear

She came over, smelling of wine

nothing of hers

being yours to accept or decline

————————, she said

and a ship groaned in the boatyards

to the west, heard by a backhoe

its jaw to the ground

and it couldn’t dig its own grave

She was all switchgrass

and began to sway, and

————————, she said

and on came the pollen engine,

the injury machine, tocking

double-time between every tick

Nothing of hers

being yours to accept or decline

she came over

her purse full of codeine,

and cigarettes, and twine

from Charms Against LightningFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 James Arthur
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Rapid Transit

One train overtakes another going the same way,

so two sets of passengers come eye-to-eye

and out one side of each train

a world flashes by, and opposite,

a world of strangers, passing slow.

As one end of a kayaker’s paddle cuts into a lake

the other end flings water at the sky.

A hand that can squeeze into a fist, turn a key,

or stroke her cheek is the perfect, backward twin

of the other, clumsy one.

Somewhere it’s early evening, but here, early morning:

into a smack of yawning air, the overtaking train

snaps free. Sunflash, stereo store,

a boy bends down, seeing a nickel—

from Charms Against LightningFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 James Arthur
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Summer Song

Fifty floors above the street,

you in a summer dress. Star-shaped holes in a steel chandelier

giving shape to the stars’ elsewhereness—

Or a tall flag snaps

against a sour-looking sky, and troopers sailing in by parachute

are clothespins

pinning up the sky. Or someone sets a fire

by kissing an inlaid floor of stone.

In the subway, we see an old woman

a million miles from home. The galaxies known by number

outnumbering those with names…

I marry you in the morning

and I marry you each day.

I feel the strain inside the song,

the Atlantic in the shell.

I feel a tall wind rising up to take

and bear me far away.

from Charms Against LightningFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 James Arthur
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

Omnivore

I eat what’s put in front of me,

as all great men do. Should you eat shark? I know

some wouldn’t, but I do, if it’s there.

Scorpions too, and their stingers; swallowing a scorpion

won’t poison you. Old-time glue-makers

made glue of old horses, and I

make use when I can.

Someone put his wife in front of me; someone else,

his mediocrity. What I know, I swear by—

feed yourself, or die.

from Charms Against LightningFind it in the library

Copyright © 2012 James Arthur
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.