10-18-2022

 

Jacques J. Rancourt

NEAR THE SHEEP GATE


Many things

        I’ve reconsidered:

the snail’s remarkable

 

        trail, the two slugs

slung around each

        other, organs

 

exposed & hanging

        from an outdoor

lamp. Because we live

 

        in the easier century,

today we say our

        wedding vows

 

& at night, when the heat

        drops, lunar

patterns, dark on dark,

 

        the cold stars break

like conversation.

        Had we been

 

born twenty years

        back, we might

be counted among

 

        the dead. Today I

promise to keep by your

        side, faithful as

 

night, if you dwindle

        into bedsheets.

In Jerusalem, near

 

        the Sheep Gate,

an angel of the Lord

        stirred a bathhouse

 

pool once a day

        which healed

the first submerged

 

        of whatever

disease he had. Child

        that I was,

 

I once believed

        faith to be a place

I lived inside myself

 

        where the prayers

for the sick did not

        become prayers

 

for the dead. Where

        they all could be

dipped to be cured,

 

        transformed,

made new. Where

        the pool was cool,

 

not warm; dark,

        not incandescent;

thrashed & cut through

 

        like a sash by

the man who stood

        naked in the center.

 

MT. DIABLO

 

California is burning & already the woods

where I first learned to love you

 

have withered, grayed. Last year

when fires rimmed the perimeter

 

of our city, we followed

in their wake, hiking

 

the underside of Mt. Diablo

& what was left by then already

 

blackened to polish, to mythic ash.

At dusk, our phones couldn’t register

 

our city’s distant lights,

so in the picture we stand smiling

 

before a black backdrop. A year ago

I barely knew you & now I picture

 

all the ways I could lose you—

what virions might already be

 

multiplying in your cells; what truck,

running an intersection, might barrel

 

over yours; what I might say

if I only had one sentence to say it.

 

Metaphor will be the first to go.

To walk through the moon’s sea,

 

I told you on that hike, might look

like this—this burnt mountainside,

 

this Pompeiian aftermath,

lacquered to veneer. How here

 

we, like two astronauts, bob.

How here we, like two satans, patrol

 

the outer ring of hell’s topography.

How I will love you through

 

prize & peril. Some Scheherazade

I’ve become, some Persephone,

 

telling you lies, yarn

after yarn, to keep you alive.

THE EARTH IS RUDE, SILENT, INCOMPREHENSIBLE 

        

Now that we exist

         on the other

side of desire,

 

         when I tell you

I love you, I mean

         we live

 

on a planet

         that’s dying

& it’s no accident

 

         that the calla lily

is both the symbolic

         flower for weddings

 

& funerals. I told you

         that loons

mated for life

 

         & when one died

the other spent

         her days calling

 

out to him across

         the gray pond.

Once again,

 

         you see,

I was wrong. Look,

         I will be

 

honest with you:

         when I promised

myself, I did so

 

         knowing not even

the sun lasts forever.

         Look! The future

 

is pressing itself

         so closely

against us it has already

 

         passed us by

& to die must make

         the same sound

 

as the woman

         I watched during

a rainstorm

 

         thrashing a river

with a branch.

         Could we make

 

time pass

         a little more

slowly? I want

 

         to watch

the fireflies spark

         up the tallgrass

 

& the bullfrog,

         that unrolls

its wide fat tongue

 

         a thousand

frames per second,

         thwap the fly

 

that flickers

         before it

with its honey-thick spit.

 

-from Brocken Spectre (Alice James Books, 2019), selected by Fall 2022 Guest Editor, Michael Walsh 

Jacques J. Rancourt is the author of two poetry collections, Brocken Spectre (Alice James Books) and Novena (Pleiades Press), as well as a chapbook, In the Time of PrEP (Beloit Poetry Journal). Raised in Maine, he lives in San Francisco with his partner and the world’s most anxious dog.

04-13-2021

Victoria Chang

04-13-2021

Victoria Chang