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Slag

 
Slag

 
I remember sweat, three pennies pressed wide
   by the twin track of the train
barely a cinder’s heat in my pocket; shirt slicked
to my back like the last bit of flesh on a picked-clean bone.
    ____________________

Long and hard I’ve worked to forget those weeks
before the school bell’s toll and summer slipped its closed sign
   back over
like a red burn across the horizon.

So why address that August
Leo and the Virgin set such slow pace across the hemisphere
and the Stanley brothers organized the neighborhood’s ten-speeds
hallooing like Pawnee over the crests of every back-alley I knew,
bareback and hungry for my dirty-blond scalp?

Why tunnel back along the grooved slates of memory,
well over a decade since I crouched siphoning nectar
from the orange clappers of the honeysuckle patch,
starved and too scared to follow my own trail back
along the runged straightaway of the rail
and down the trestle’s nearly unclimable slope—
                                                                                        sun
not yet gone under, moon still waiting
to cast its lukewarm light long across the road?

It’s no great leap into the folds of the wings of the crows,
to perch with them on the power lines, red eyes open,
  then closed,
and all the time myself within that aperture,
just having discovered the abandoned repair yard,
      moon double-dutch
in the crow-trussed cable wires.
    ____________________

Is it the gadfly born with a thousand black blind eyes?
The goldfish that lives without a single memory?  
The pit viper that strikes without ever having heard a sound?
    
   Make me one.

For if anything’s worth recalling, I’d not have thought
of this plain of shimmering glass shatterings beneath in the sun;
the power lines converging and diverging overhead
like a cat’s cradle twined between sassafras branches.
    ____________________

Long and hard I’ve worked to forget this, fingered
   the folds of the hops blossom
for the dander of forgetfulness; tossed
   this husked-out volume of a body
to the fruit bats pinging out a flight from darkness.

But no roots have sprouted from the cold stone floors.
No sweet herb of amnesia has curled up from the guano. 
No cornflower blue blossom in the deep.
   ____________________

Make me a goldfish, and I’ll leap out of water.
Make me a viper, and I’ll strike at my own wings.

For it is here, under this near-full sphere
gray as a bingo ball, that I wiled my hours, scouring
busted-up Budweiser bottles and crushed cans
of Milwaukee’s Bests for globules of slag,
     that intimate byproduct

of butane’s blue cone left long ago by the spot welders
to cool into the egg-shaped stones I gathered
and, reaching back, heaved into the sky,

believing that like the men who strapped themselves to Apollo
and rocketed beyond gravity’s grasp,

I too could shuttle past the caws of the crows;
leave my booted foot’s impression on the surface of the moon.
    ____________________

Then the moon seemed so close—
pinned to the earth like angels to the dead—
moon like a sand dollar revolving about its axis,
                                                                                       so thin
that every half-turn it winks out,
leaving only the dark slit of a serpent’s eye closed over us.
    ____________________

Is it the pickerel reed that snaps in the first cool breath of Autumn?
Is it the seven-year cicada that discards its husk on the cusp
   of winter?

   Make me one.

For what else is there for me here? Other
than the rust-rimed railings left out to their half-lives, the typefaced
destinations fading along the sterns and starboards
of de-wheeled hopper cars, the crows
passing their messages back and forth between them,
                                                                                               the crows
my cackling overseers?
    ____________________

   Make me a piece of the sky, and I will darken.
   Make me a crow, and as darkness falls,
    will make myself a piece of it.

How else forget these first notions of self-loathing, that no matter
   how hard I tried
to send something into orbit, those lumps of molten iron pitched,
yawed, then splashed back down to earth
     in thumped-up instances of light?

How else forget the path that brought me there or how
looking back along that wide curve in the rail

I wished for the galloping forth of the Minotaur,
and instead it was the Tennessee-Southern,
         barreling forth the coal economy;

as I crouched just inches from the flashing-past boxcars,
envisioning the day I’d take off at a sprint
and hurl myself into another land. 



The Potomac Review, Spring 2011

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