Detail of sculpture on the Longfellow Bridge

The Longfellow Bridge

The T runs down the heart
of the bridge.

The cars shake in the dim light
left by the dregs of the day.

May-green trees and May-green weeds
shine, still slick and fresh from rain.

I walk on the edge of the bridge
by a low stone wall.

The rainfall slows.
The Red Line train is gone.

I walk and walk.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.

Detail of sculpture on the Longfellow Bridge

Longfellow Bridge detail (2007). Photo by Paul Mison. Used with permission.

Airplanes Over the Bog

In response to Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “The Pear Tree”

Bagno. The name means bog.
The village may have been a bog
before the drainage ditches
gridded it into kolkhoz.

Crop dusters buzz in the cloudy sky—
always cloudy over Bagno,
always muddy at the kolkhoz gate
where the people’s tractor
shudders diesel smoke through a soot-blacked chimney.

Cloudy sky like a black and white
newsreel from WWII
where an airplane buzzes low,
and drops a finned black bomb
like a soda fountain cartridge
and a child runs with a black mouth
open but inaudible over the buzz. The bomb
does not hum, does not hiss, does not cry,
and I can’t tell in the black and white film
if the child’s mouth is full of shadows or blood.

In the fields black molehills
erupt like impact craters,
but we never see the blind
excavators alive.

My cousin’s model airplane
burns fuel oily and metallic,
buzzes above us in the cloudy field,
flies to the edge of radio range,
then out of range
down into the calamus,
into the cattails, into the wet edge
of the black pine forest seeping night,
and burrows its lacquered nose in peat.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.

About this poem

When I was about to post this poem, I looked up Brigit Pegeen Kelly so I could link to her biography, and learned that she died last year. I no longer know what to say when someone asks me who is my favorite living poet. In 1997 I heard Brigit Pegeen Kelly read from her book Song at the Aran Islands Poetry Festival in Galway, Ireland. I was attending it as one of the winning young poets sent by the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. I was so taken with her work that I overcame my habitual shyness and went up to her afterwards to tell her how much I loved it, and I gave her the only thing I could think of, my poetry chapbook, although it seemed rather paltry in comparison to what I had just heard. I also bought her book, which I foolishly neglected to ask her to sign. I wish I had.

Over the years, I read the poems in Song and The Orchard many times. Many of my poems are inspired by hers. I meant to tell her how much her poems meant to me. I mean to send her some of them, but it seemed presumptuous. Now it’s too late.

Like Two Dogs Dancing

[Content warning: animal death]

He turns into the comforter of rain,
no umbrella or hat, just the quilted
sidewalk. The spume from wheels passing
through the deep puddle by the stopped
storm drain arcs into the wet air
like the last blood of his black dog
that as a child he once neglected to tie up,
hit by the back wheel of a parked Fiat
unseen until the car started and its blood
waved like a fox tail, like the tail of another
dog, a red dog playing with the black dog,
wrestling in the rutted red-clay road
until the black dog fell exhausted.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.

The Wandering Daughter Returns to Her Neglected Patrimony

From the half-finished bunker of the concrete basement
That was to be the foundation of our now-abandoned
Familial abode that I will neither finish nor furnish
Nor people with young from my rebel womb,
I throw my gaze down the hill of dead orchard,
Across the green lake poisoned with runoff, to the far-side
Fields of sodden rye where from the lead belly of the sky
Snake tongues of violet lightning.

The air shudders with ozone and cracks;
The spear of the black iron lightning rod running
Along the red brick church tower of the old Prussian spire
Conjures down heaven’s fire through rusted-red rebar,
Down to the grounding-rod deep in red clay.

Like a spilled bag of steel bearings
The rain rolls down the fiberglass roof.

The black guard dog whimpers locked in his pen
Lest he bite me again, waiting for nightfall when he’ll pant
The perimeter of the chain link fence from hilltop spruce
To lakeside rowan, patrolling the dry orchard
My uncle let die as he drank year by year
His caretaker’s funds never believing
Anyone would return.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.

Church in Gryźliny, Poland.

 

Grudzień

The tall, even pines
   with sand at their feet
      brood black between their trunks.

 The winter-dried reeds
   frozen solid in the iced-over marsh
      rustle in the western wind
 
that blows from the red,
   red disk of the solstice sun
      solemnly sliding down the midwinter sky,
  
hardly illuminating the winter-plowed field
   where the good black peat bog earth
      the steel plows had cut and turned
 
has frozen solid like a sea in the midst of a storm,
   the peak of each earth wave touched with sun-blood,
      each dell breeding black shadows,

breeding night. Night seeping from the tall pines.
   Night rising from the peat field,
      the sun spilling out into the frozen bog,
  
spilling and sinking
   into the crackling ice.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.

In the Park with Grandmother, Olsztyn, Poland 1981

for Babcia Wańdzia

Though she pulled it back into a bun
   black wisps of her hair haloed
      her face.

The hard blue sky behind her
   run through with a single white thread
      of a contrail.

Her skin was like walnut.
   With the sun behind her
      she smiled at me in her own shadow.

The silver plane
   preceded
      its sound.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.

One July at 2 a.m.

Speeding down the kudzu highway
where Atlanta’s orange glow chokes
stars, he forced the ’82 stick-
shift Toyota too close to its
effective frequency. I thought
the vibrations would shatter us.

He forgot the front-door key and had to climb
through our bedroom window.
Poison sumac grew on the wall. He attacked
the tendrils with his serrated carbon steel
commando pocket-knife. Our sheets, always musty,
kept me awake as the fan click-clacked,
and he again refused to hold or touch me.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.

Aubade

In that moment I wonder
   was Freud right after all,
is the female nothing, nothing
   but the absence of the male?
Am I real or a black void
   of soft, organic warmth,
depersonalized fecundity, animal blood,
   alien slime, not a person,
only provisional consciousness
   that moves towards food and spawns
my animal brood? A black earth field,
   bog soil, ready for seed, but not,
never, no, never autonomous.
   A collection of parts: skin,
soft, moist openings, hair, nails,
   bones, cartilage. Not ever a sum
greater than its parts.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.

Intercourse

I am not a hole,
   but in this moment
I become it.
   When the act is finished
and the plug is gone
   I am no longer whole.
 
Desire covers the futility
   of the thrusting.
If for a moment I regain consciousness
   I think “how ridiculous,”
lose all suspension of disbelief
   and see sex as a child again:
A strange act, pointless, repetitive.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.

His Eyes

Ten years in these eucalyptus groves
   where iodine winds
      shuffle menthol gum leaves
         I’ve pressed aromatic poultices
            against the scar of your memory.

There’s nothing. Nothing behind your blue
   eyes, lord of lies, evil magnet,
      lodestone of my worst nature,
         hypnotic glazed gaze of a bird of prey.
 
Twisted mirror that reflects
   what you think I desire.

 This conversation is you merely
   playing with your food.

You are as incapable of compassion
   as a prairie hawk eating a mouse.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.