By Stephen Haven


The Montréal Review, March 2024


Strangers I Sing ‘The Community of those who have Nothing in Common’ by Mark Blavat


I remember best the Oxford shoes, the three-piece suits,
How he always sat in the back row of our summer class, 
Striped tie, maroon and gold, if I recall that one day right. 
He was 10 years older than the rest of us who Heartlanded
Whitman, Dickinson that July. Iowa City, 1983, no A.C., 
Landlocked in that humidity, except in groceries,
Theaters, maybe the rare café, a hamburger
And milkshake town in those days, 90 degrees forcing us
Out to Dingleberry’s Quarry, where we swam
Without our skivvies, cows wandering into the opposite
Mucky end. We dodged their pies, occasional
Water moccasins, perched on rocks, dove in the deep spots. 
But it was coffee after class when Craig joined our jeans
And T’s. When he packed a pipe and lit it, we broached
The subject: “What’s with the suit? I mean, really?”
“The distillation of evil from the claims of innocence is ironic,” 
Reinhold Niebuhr said. I’m broke, said Craig, a victim 
Of circumstance. He was rich, once, so the story went. 
Now he had nothing but old fancy suits his parents 
Once bought him. I didn’t like to doubt 
Another man’s story, didn’t know him, glad to share 
A cup of coffee, talk about my pending trip. 
My girlfriend and I would eat nothing but oysters
And bluefish. But what about the apartment, he asked?
He needed two weeks to get back on his feet.
I don’t remember the entire circumstance
That led to yes, or the exact chain of events that never
Consulted my lover, but he moved in the day we left, 
Ours a two-bedroom second story, nothing fancy. 
One window was broken when we came back.
Glass shards littered the nook we squeezed
Into our galley kitchen. Yes, he slept in our double bed
Just as he said he wouldn’t. “What’d you expect?” 
My girlfriend asked. The bourbon gone, a couple 
Hairs still glued to the empty bottle, our double Dutch
Porcelain stuccoed all over, egg yoke, spaghetti hardened
In its dead sauce, dried mint chocolate chip, the package
Gracing the garbage. Two weeks’ worth of God knows what.
I reached him by phone in our favorite watering hole
Where each night T.A.’s held prisms to the human
Stars again, glinted also against a sign that flashed
The clarity of the Rockies and everything we drank, 
Artists, writers, a couple historians, one crazed evening 
A theologian, all of us ganging on my lovely girlfriend
Who refused the earth would go to the tern 
Of an intercontinental missile, and then the flock 
Would follow… In so many words
God so loved the world… Whenever she left
To pee or fill her glass, we laughed in a wisdom 
Beyond our drafts, jeered about unschooled 
Peasants, plebians. Craig asked did I find
The check he left? “Must have blown out
The blown-out window...” Stay right there, I said,
We can talk it over a glass. “Tell you what,”
He said, “Lend me your car, I’ll drive to Davenport,
Pick up everything to make amends.” Two weeks later
He hit me again: AT&T billed for long-distance,
Numbers that offered nothing when I called them.
Then finally his grandmother: “Happened like this
Many times before. We’ve washed our hands of him.” 
My girlfriend left me shortly after. I wondered
What it meant to be a good partner, or if Niebuhr 
Was too hard on his fellow citizens, spent one long 
Lonely night with my girlfriend’s ex-bosom friend. 
I remember best the cartography of each failed kindness, 
At 4 her Irish daily milk and tea, smooth as Wild Turkey.

Pain Transfigured. Above the Bed of Sorrow by Mark Blavat


Such is the fate of our lone Molly, our trembling Podenco,
Who spackles our gray deck white with paint. I will sweep
And patch where she jumps and scratches, a chipmunk’s 
Warning—chit, chit, chit—a few feet from where she strains
The railing with her groomed coat and light-brown mouth. 
The rodent’s humped life sparks Molly’s wire. The two
Crossed ends jump the electric copper. Desire shakes in
The dog. I’m the schoolmarm that tugs her back. Or else
I leash my own sense of self-restraint, observe a mammal’s 
Nature for a while. At their cross purposes, caught always
In the same burrow, Molly’s ADHD triangulates also
The basking hopper, warm on a wound of round
Dirt in our dry grass. Then the surge between the three,
Anything else small and fast, blown leaves and wasps
Molly snaps at, but nothing quite catches her
Quivering tendons like the promise of passion
A few feet above her snout. When I call her back
To her domestic senses, the chipmunk still warns
And scolds, leaving in this equation at least a felt hope
For the fulfillment of dog-wired desire, which has for its
Exact human figure, in this moment, anyway, a boy tracking

His way to NYC, long before the web offered visions
Of naked women to pubescent children. An older brother
Brings the younger to peep before the virginal glass.
The big brother pumps quarters to stage the lit woman
But the boy inside my vision has no hands to deliver
Even solitary pleasure. Or else Tarkovsky’s Solaris
Where a cosmonaut beds a warm facsimile of his long
Dead wife, her doppelganger some intelligence an alien
Species imposes to relieve or exacerbate his deep angst.
The husband knows the carbon copy will never
Satiate him, and still her perfect breasts are with him
Every interstellar morning. Is she any more inflated—
Canned is the more relevant word—than Molly’s carrots
And turkey in gravy—that bloodless meat—
Dished out when the sun sends its fractured light
Daily to the prism of our deck and kitchen?  Or we might

Consider the urned man eternally frozen, the “unravish’d
Bride of quietness,” who offers nothing in the way
Of a resolving touch. Or Susan, far on the other side
Of Dickinson’s hedge, so tall it shadows like a sentry
Emily’s widow’s walk. “Rearrange a ‘Wife’s’ Affection… Make me
Bearded like a man!” For this our Molly paces the deck, frantic
As Captain Gardiner calling in an endless lick of waves
For his lost and only boy, the ship with Susan Gilbert
For its carved figurehead, the wash of their shared shrub 
Another ocean. If only we are listening, everyone
With blood and bone dreams of the woman
Who might call them home, Evergreen the lost
Hovercraft in Eden’s storm. 13 years after Antony bled
His last goodbye, “Egypt—Thou knew’st,” was in actuality
The note that passed between them. All that time
Cleopatra living one door down, the door ajar
That oceans are. One afternoon, driving my car, I sang along:

Bo Diddley on NPR. “Who do you love?” Among my children,
I can’t speak for any other, and now I count Molly in 
That number, love is the easier question to answer, not
So much the paradise Dickinson dreamed of all her life.
Molly squirms at the end of her run. Nearby my wife’s
Solar-powered fountain. Depending on the weather
It fires up and peters. Also, there is the feeder
My neighbor built high on a silver pole, his seed stock
Guarded from the ravage of the squirrels. They will
Get there anyway. In my torn rotator cuff, the shell
Of an answer is a road-flattened snapper jerking
Green my morning walk in the direction of its stain.
But who can cinch, spitting, sparking, the frayed south end
Of inflamed desire, tight to its battered Godhead?

Back to the great salt sea by Mark Blavat


Wherever light splinters the world to its latest trouble,
Ziplines to the point where a boy lams it
From his brother, their wildest neighbor raping
That boy’s sister, and everyone flees
Fast from that center, buildings gone,
Others leaning to one side like a man
Holding his head up with one hand
Intact in the precise incision of that light
Long after the moment the windows bust…

Wherever the digital reigns from a dowser’s
Fresh-cut limb, in Frankfurt, in Idaho, half-buried
In bunkers, wherever they never run out of water,
Where daily they scan thousands who gather
In some light beginning, or in the long, taut joy
Of a just-lost mother, wherever they scan
An old man on a zither, quiet in one far corner,
The old man on a drum, slow in the family manner,

Or fast on a penny whistle, the clack of some
Worn castanet, keys of a loved sayr on an old
Accordion, the old man kissing his only daughter,
And all the hard worries hand-cranking again…
Wherever two or three gather, where hundreds,
Where thousands, in that exact pleasure,
That confusion, that anger, at the precise point
Of that pain, America sorts the world together
And bombs it for its trouble.


Stephen Haven’s fourth book of poems, The Flight from Meaning, is forthcoming from Slant Books in 2025. His earlier collections are The Last Sacred Place in North America, Dust and Bread, and The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks.

Mark Blavat is a painter and bricoleur who having found meaningful labor for 32 years in undergraduate and graduate art education, left to become the Director and Attendee of the wizened and yet nascent Theater for Orphic Mimesis in Philadelphia.




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