POETRY ISSUE #36

"Paint # 60" by James W Johnson, acrylic/ink on wood, 7x9, 2014
*Image: “Paint # 60” by James W Johnson, acrylic/ink on wood, 7×9, 2014

 

Robert Rothman

Featured Poet

 

 

FORDING A RIVER ON HORSEBACK AFTER HEAVY SNOW-MELT

 

You have to knee her forward, down the sand
embankment, shoes clattering like silver dollars
on the river rock, encouraging words mixed with
spurs, into the freezing wash, the surge
of water so strong that the dog that’s followed
is swept away like a stick, paddling in frantic
for shore four hundred feet down-river, sinking
deeper until the froth is licking at
stirrups, the big head moving up and down,
measuring the equation of depth and shoreline
distant, the strain of muscles up the legs
into flanks into you, riding the slow
undulations, lifting and dropping, legs pressed
to the electric creature, reins at rest, the sun
on back, leaning against her, stroking her neck,
then sitting tall, separate animals
matched in the journey over the flooding waters.
Long ago, the two of us, the first passage across.

 

 

MOTHER TONGUE

 

Bring on the rack of years, the pulleys
and contraption of stretch. Sit me

On the Judas Chair, its daily dose of
blood and loss. Entomb me inside

The brazen bull, bronze and hollowed
chamber where screams are

Muted to a bull’s bellowed deep roars. Let
the Iron Maiden be my bride

Of sharp reminder and stabs of
tears. Place Heretic’s Fork’s pronged

Tines on chin and sternum and see if
I fall asleep. Affix me to the Breaking

Wheel, tied to the spokes of time. Do what
you will. Snap off fingers. Rip

Away the flesh. Crush knees and feet. Burn
and boil. Freeze. Impale. Never

Will I surrender, will I renounce, will you
get out of me—mother tongue. Slice

Away darting pink fish of speech: I
will mime the words inside. I listen

To the music. I dance to its insistent beat. I
prison break your crude bars and fly

away as well as any bird to open sky. Kill
me. You can’t kill us all. You can’t

Dam off what flows like water in underground
streams unreachable by heated tongs and razor-edged

Scalpels. Even now, inside moon bellies the secret
is being passed on. Bring your instruments, your

Fire. Bring the rocks. Machinery of
pain. You won’t. You haven’t. You can’t.

 

"Shadow Blue Square" by James W Johnson, acrylic/ink on panel, 20x20, 2014

“Shadow Blue Square” by James W Johnson, acrylic/ink on panel, 20×20, 2014

 

 

BLACKBERRIES

 

I am in deep. Mouth bruised black and purple. Hands
sticky as if dipped in pollen. A bear

having found the honeycomb. I sit
in berry stupor, thick with tart―sweetened

knowing. I come again, waking up with the
hunger. More like a beast in heat. Something

each year like a clock at summer solstice
draws me out and into the brambles, away

and alone, to forage, gorge and weep. The day
is hot, even from the early, and sweat

drips down my arms. Mosquitoes circle. I
am prey and predator this day of longest

light. I hold up the blackberry to
the sun. The jeweled drupelets, aggregated

and tight, beaded into a weave, can’t be
penetrated. It takes the teeth to bite, the tongue

to separate the seeds from fruit, the flesh
and juice to wash around waiting mouth. It is

sunlight, rainwater, happiness and pain
licked, crushed, savored, lingered and then

swallowed down. I am Eve in Eden
standing naked in the Garden, a guilty

pleasure on my lips, staining hands, marking
mind. Greedy in the taking, giddy

with the abundance, I sate the appetite
that brought me here. Nicked, pricked, cut and

slashed, tattooed in blood the same deep shade
as the plunder, I stand like a primitive

on the first day of existence, hands, tongue
and mouth hennaed and pocked in purple wonder.

 

 

MAY 3RD

 

I walked out into the day
And couldn’t help moaning
Like a man not touched
For so long he had forgotten
The feel rotating my head
Arching up chest like an offering
Lifting legs up and down
As if slow dancing before the sea
So the sunlight could find
Every pore each patch of skin
Glazing me golden
Muscles spilling like water
Swaying back and forth
Eyes closing and opening
Crying out my love song.

 

"Roadside Fragmentation" by James W Johnson, acrylic/ink on panel, 25x19, 2014

“Roadside Fragmentation” by James W Johnson, acrylic/ink on panel, 25×19, 2014

 

 

POSTCARD FROM THE FRONT

 

Another fell today: not blown to smithereens
from a grenade lobbed in languid slow motion
or terrorist detonating in fourth of July
self-immolation lighting up for a moment

before going dark and silent.         Gunned
down inside. Surrounded and shot time
after time by mutated cells until nothing
left to resist the fusillade. Nothing heard.

Dead echo. As a Dutch elm goes, eaten up
inside, the coming end running out of
eyes in uncontrollable tears, quivering hands
having the dropsy, the green leaves gone

to curled brown wilt.      I knew one that
went at the height of his teens. Not a
blemish. Lean muscles without an ounce
of waste. Hair like spring grass. Corruption

couldn’t find a toehold. Dropped
like a bird in mid-flight whose wings
stopped working. Fell off a mountain
and landed: an angel spread-winged

on the snow.      What is the prayer
of the old: Give us time! Give us time! We
can age past the metallic taste of acquisition,
the acrid self-interest, the sulfur stench of

the seven deadly. We might become a
distillation that intoxicates self and others to
fiery high.     Two months ago: another. Without
warning. Not a cloud in the sky. No smell of rain

on the wind. Nothing as far as the eye could see.
Oh, go to hell you weather-prognosticators thinking
you can predict when and where the next storm
will strike. I used to watch apples ripen on the

tree, going from a hard, small golf ball of green
to yellow bulge, swelling into round red brilliance.
Now I’ve seen too many fall prematurely, my
word for the jackhammer news that doesn’t stop.

Robert Rothman

Robert Rothman lives in Northern California, near extensive trails and open space, with the Pacific Ocean over the hill. His work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, The Alembic, Existere, The Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Westview, Willow Review, and over fifty other literary journals. https://robertrothman.wordpress.com/

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