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Elegy for 39

 

It was the year we decided not

to get divorced. The poem

said something like clouds

moving quickly across the sun

while the rest of us talked about faith

and how my personal level of intensity

in faking it is one way to measure

the depth of the drop I’d have to make

before I could turn over in bed

toward a window open to the night

and spotty rain dotting leaves

with light caught from porch lamps

and know that what I’d imagined

to be time drained of sound

was the purest sound,

one person turning away from another

into a cone formed by his turning.

We sat on the porch while the kids napped

and watched light rise and fall

through clouds moving quickly across the sun

like distractions from a vital and complex truth

that requires too many pages of exegesis

for people with days like ours,

time’s version of an optical illusion,

both too long and too short

for anything like actual thinking.

I remember one of the many unsolicited

pieces of advice we got when Elmer

was coming along—don’t make any major

decisions until he’s one, you’ll be too

tired to get it right. So naturally

we changed jobs and moved across the country.

I can’t even remember who gave us that advice.

They’re probably out of our lives now.

And what’s in them, these six and something

years out of your forty and my almost

that we’ve been spinning through together,

watching our obligations mount

around sensations that folded out of us

from zones of our beings we hadn’t

seen before, like a third arm you’d

somehow failed to notice, an us

both alien and uncannily us,

children, a marriage, an unexpected love—

these things have taken over,

brushed aside whatever

was there before

like an anxious developer.

This force is of

our own making but comically

has no regard for us, like that arm

is a whole body, two bodies,

tugging us along wherever they feel like going,

the most dangerous places they can find.

I was writing that line on my phone

while following fifteen-month-old Harlan

doing his duck walk down a wheelchair ramp.

He leaned way over the side of it

to look at some smooth rocks on the ground

and, as I got to the word “dangerous,”

toppled down into them.

So much for art, some might say,

but not me, I just learned

how many people have put videos online

with the words “spectacular sunset” in their titles,

there’s one after another.

I’d made one myself, a video I mean,

because the sun had ducked

behind an unmoving cloud

at the horizon, and I knew from the internet

how long it would take the sun to reappear

in the gap between the bottom edge of the cloud

and the top edge of the earth,

a sun-sized gap dotted with its own

minor cloud variants

there to complicate the image,

a sun moving slowly behind clouds,

and I felt a low note being struck within,

something I’ve learned is not sadness

but gratitude in unknowing,

a feeling that is hard but porous,

that dissipates like short rain

steaming off its first idea of the ground.

Dark pink reformatting the blue,

dark pink lights of our forever car,

dark pink of hippies, dark pink life tassels,

dark pink “to fly,” as you put it,

“by the night of our pants.”

I don’t know where the night goes,

but I know we’ll be awake,

and why, this long year of nights

when people standing right next to us

broke in half and spilled everywhere

just because they paid attention.

We don’t have an exact date

for when we got engaged,

there was no moment, no single question

but instead weeks of them

while an idea changed from something we could do

into something we would, it was gestational,

like this year has been, a year I hope is over.

I’m glad you’re turning forty. I wish I were, too.

I need a number for what we’ve come through,

our second engagement, longer than the first,

permanent, in fact, the questions of questions

and the answer we give—

give, deny, and give again.

from To Literally You Find more by Paul Killebrew at the library

Copyright © 2017 Paul Killebrew
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

Teach Me to Box

 

Just simmer down, silverware,

and stay in the icebox like a good little salad.

Where do you think you’re going,

elocution class? I used to admire

your poignant nose, your mouth

rippling up from your jaw

in a dipping crest that suggested

not merely disdain,

but a full and deep understanding

acquired over years of study

that led you to this moment

when you regretfully explain

precisely why you cannot love him.

Her hair was pulled back, black

with thick lines of light

shining off it in stripes

like sunlight off a record.

She held her cards in one hand

and my arm with the other.

“Stop,” she said. “You don’t know

what he’s capable of.”

Then she smeared across the floor

like Sunday by the sea. California

gossip, Connecticut cherrytree.

Bowls stacked in the kitchen

rumble back and forth,

the waiter’s desperate eyes

skittering around like moths

as his winding hands flutter

into his mouth. It would give me

no end of pleasure to leave your wardrobe forever.

Instead I walk through the night

in my thick painting and hat

waiting for someone in a life vest to come along,

tie me up, and set the egg timer for years.

The yellow man lay at the bottom of the stairs,

knocked out but breathing,

and I looked at you, clutching the banister

as feathers dropped sluggishly around you.

Could anything be done with us?

Was it always going to be this unmentionable proof

trailing after each moment like a wake?

I think our faces are completely determinate.

I fell into a category and came to rely on it

like shrubs skimming the interstate,

growing impossibly among fumes.

I just wanted the police to know,

their guns drawing open the shade

as light splatters across the bedroom

and wakes the bewildered orphan.

from Ethical ConsciousnessFind more by Paul Killebrew at the library

Copyright © 2013 Paul Killebrew
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

Sonnet

 

Lights turned on around you.

Now everyone has his eye.

You mind wearing a shirt?

I grasped for an order.

The painting was all blocks.

You’re so good to me.

She asked him about stages.

It wasn’t worth the trouble.

I ran into the store.

I left home, only later.

Police measured the streets.

Rooftops checkered the winsome night.

Outside the courthouse, they cried.

Light spiraled over the water.

from Ethical ConsciousnessFind more by Paul Killebrew at the library

Copyright © 2013 Paul Killebrew
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

94 Corolla

 

As she came up the steps

she saw him through a window

and stopped. It was embarrassing

what I’d convinced myself would happen.

He called it a speech—

a medium-security vessel

for transporting thought across dim borders—

but nobody would know that when he started.

The days in the next room let loose

like they’d been saving up,

pounding out perfectly intelligible catastrophes

from rimless yellow words

spoken through six feet of foam rubber in Los Angeles,

natural and unhappy in a wet diaper.

Is this really what you wanted,

a square at an angle and groan-shaped capitulation?

Take it, then, and go back to your prismatic ratios.

Light reflects off the hood of a car outside onto the ceiling

and bounds from rafter to rafter as it parks.

The crowds keep moving,

and sometimes you recognize

not an exact person

but some relationship among the shapes in his appearance

or the movement of skin over his jaw as it forms words

in a conversation you could never hope to follow.

Shattered, you look down and notice

lenses embedded in the ground around you

robotically pivot toward the elevator doors in the distance

as they slide glamorously open

to reveal a swirl of water

glittering with diamonds and tears.

from Ethical ConsciousnessFind more by Paul Killebrew at the library

Copyright © 2013 Paul Killebrew
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

Anyone’s Two Minutes

 

The moon is empty,

whatever else may be happening

in the change of setting.

He removes his hand

from the inner pocket of his blazer,

and it is empty.

Her hand finds its way

from her hip to his

and then across his back,

flat and moving upward

until her fingers hook

just over his collar

and tug just barely.

“I just thought,” she continued,

“we could extend to each thought

the courtesy of completing it.”

The small crowd

that had coagulated around her

broke into laughter. The ceiling caved right in.

Pure imitation is only possible

in the cult of authenticity,

for these are the flowers of our youth,

the cant of glorious magmas

instantiated in molecular puzzles

of personally offending highwire commentary

delivered in drollest New England chowder.

Exhale of concept.

The future of the worker is closing its doors.

It’s fine with me if nothing happens.

I expect some feelings of disappointment,

but they won’t encompass us,

not with so many dots to fill in

and the regular accomplishing of sentences

in the high-spirited yellow living room,

steam of small dishes

against the cold weather,

children’s desperation, a loosening

of screens, a face at the window

receding. The darkness,

as they say, abounds within us.

He choked to death on his own joke.

The dogs had some kind of dispute.

Choose a glass from this tray and wait.

She smiled from the corner of the stadium.

I borrowed this car from a sick neighbor.

The signs insist all they like.

I think we know better.

No one delivers a punch like me.

I can’t even feel my hands.

It’s been ages since I thought of this.

Please help.

We’re desperate for your love.

Revise at will and send on.

I can’t wait to hear what you think.

Then I consider explaining to him just how awful he is to me.

I lost all interest in ever saying anything.

I just sat there and took it.

I don’t expect to stay much longer.

I just don’t see how I could.

from To Literally You Find more by Paul Killebrew at the library

Copyright © 2017 Paul Killebrew
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

Actually Present

 

I don’t remember you, but you keep coming back.

Is that what you think of me?

I’ve got two sick children. My little girl

has a hole in her belly

and we have to pour milk down her throat.

So much the better, make it difficult and meaningless

as when we turn into the park and hope

the conversation picks up somehow.

My heart wasn’t in it, I think you knew even then,

but I wanted to rearrange thin bars of thought

into a ladder-like system of total devotion to the present

in its fabulous vanity. You were beautiful to me,

your lapel against your chin and the orange light

flinging itself from your mouth.

At the top of the hill you could see all four walls,

it was windy,

the ceremony was invested with deepening resolve,

reflection, amazement, cast out of the boredom

at the center of all things.

I walked down the middle of the bus.

I took a photograph.

I read about a town in East Texas

where a crust lowered onto all nakedness,

then dusted away with every glance.

I plugged in my computer

and looked around at the mess

as you moved

through subtle modulations of texture

from one end of the room

to the other. Something

something something, something

something something.

from Ethical ConsciousnessFind more by Paul Killebrew at the library

Copyright © 2013 Paul Killebrew
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

Really Isn’t

 

It is such

a beautiful world,

and yet

I treat

so many things

as emblematic,

as if each

teardrop on

the brim of

his lies

spoke for

a large and

shadowy theme,

like the mind

emulsifying

with its

backdrop of sleep,

black wave-shaped

cutouts in

cardboard bobbing

in asynchronous

ovals and

staggered to

the back of

the stage,

as if depth

were only a

matter of

layering planes.

from Ethical ConsciousnessFind more by Paul Killebrew at the library

Copyright © 2013 Paul Killebrew
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

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.

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