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By Simon Perchik


The Montréal Review, June 2011




                                You still don't trust seabirds
                                must enjoy September coming back
                                closing in on your birthday
                                on these leaves all year watching out
                                for the cold almost within sight

                                --the piercing, high-pitched shriek
                                is just this rake grabbing hold
                                more dirt, another burrow, stones
                                --I've never learned

                                to please you with height.
                                I only know to dig, to reach
                                under, to cradle the dirt
                                that eats nothing, to plead with it
                                over and over the way a child is taught
                                in a chair higher than usual

                                --I don't see you yet
                                and the air here melts when handled
                                becomes blurred, comets swoop
                                for one more pass while my arms
                                clutch this struggling darkness
                                to make you eat, sit up
                                open your mouth for this fork, the cake
                                still warm, its candles circling down

                                to overtake the sun --sparks
                                everywhere! sweetened, still lit
                                not yet snow and your mouth
                                almost listening, almost daylight.

                                Waiting all afternoon the dark
                                is treated the way a parasite
                                dreads shells and emptiness

                                though a blue residue cools the sky
                                spreads out so its light everywhere
                                can run just so fast from the blindness
                                children still count on their hands

                                --at least applause! some medal
                                but not the sun, no stars either
                                --be generous! each nightfall
                                deserves two, one equation

                                clocks its speed, retells
                                how darkness shapes all curvature
                                and one to show how light
                                in place umpteenzillion years before
                                still can't peel your shadow off
                                without it harder to breathe
                                --how much proof do you want!

                                I ask you, can light, even at noon
                                raise your body temperature
                                --only darkness has the youth
                                to reach under the ground
                                as if its twin were somehow
                                this feeble light dragged by winter
                                and stone --look, it's simple

                                --a test, feet together, now
                                one bare hand to wave goodbye
                                --the one left over weighs more
                                begins to curl, becomes older
                                --check it out, the numbers are there

                                always the same durable night after night
                                while the flesh from each fingertip
                                falls back exhausted, tastes bitter
                                even with your eyes closed.

                                And you, licking this reef
                                the way herds are nourished
                                with salt --even your tongue
                                has a trace, bitter, brackish
                                stings though salt
                                is what keeps stone stone

                                --with each lick
                                another mountainside and your tongue
                                longing for the ocean floor
                                for more salt setting fire
                                to the snow and falling
                                so near the peak --you clear a lane

                                for the moon who can spare
                                just so many mornings
                                just so much light --with both eyes
                                you sprinkle salt as if this stone
                                dissolves only by leaning backward
                                barren, covered over

                                and though your lips are skinned alive
                                it's the pressure at sea level
                                that garbles the breath
                                you almost make out and keep trying.

                                Masks take practice, the sneer
                                stretched head to foot, a tongue
                                filled with snakes :your watch

                                is useless against the sun, strapped
                                the way even battle-scorched shields
                                couldn't stop its shadow
                                coming to hold you by the hand
                                patiently close your eyes --at least

                                you try, hold out your small watch
                                as if the billion year old sun
                                needs a few seconds more.

                                You overdo it! your wrist
                                blistered, ugly, fierce
                                that barely covers your eyes
                                and the quick look up
                                each time the sun breaks away
                                from the Earth --you learn
                                to count the stones by twos
                                that can't move, by the lips
                                bursting into flames
                                the way an outstretched breath
                                over and over tries.

                                He has this rule, No tools
                                and for the same reason
                                I take his beat-up ladder

                                --he knows it won't be used
                                that inside a week I'm back
                                better than ever with thanks
                                and carried on my shoulder.

                                Each Spring's the same
                                --I bring the 6-pack, wait
                                for the You shouldn't have
                                while he opens 2, tells me
                                how the shed needs a lock

                                and I admit to nothing
                                though the dust rag
                                is there in my hand
                                --he's used to this, Buy one
                                you cheapskate, wants to hear

                                how it's not the same, the ladder
                                has to be glommed and a neighbor
                                who goes along, explains again
                                how expensive a strong lock is
                                then snaps back the lid
                                as if the loving tab would light
                                the world and everyone who ever lived
                                seen again, holding on
                                with no one passing the other

                                --we have it settled, the ladder
                                is his, stays dingy, leans
                                inside the shed the way a dead child
                                still calls to its mother

                                and once each year I carry off
                                these powerful wishes rung by rung
                                return their distant heights and wings.


Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The New Yorker and elsewhere. For more information, including his essay "Magic, Illusion and Other Realities" and a complete bibliography, please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com


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