The salvage yard’s forty acres of brokedown
busted-up wrecks, where we once got fifty bucks
for our grocery getter, an ’89 wagon.
My father & I stalk aisles of cars & trucks
for replacement parts—rims, belts, compressor.
Pops a hood—holds a lighter up in the skull,
runs a hand along the radiator.
Nothing lasts, but nothing’s irreplaceable—
except for the faulty parts he passed down.
Same lousy knees, leaky valves—blood flow
half-slowed in his Gremlin heart. Same depression,
same blown hippocampus. All this, yet a grin
when he sees the old ’Vette: 16 again, all show
& fro, gunning down Main St for the horizon.
Letter to My Daughter Perhaps Someday
It’s the little things that matter, the gurus & diamond companies
keep telling us. Too often I look through my shoelaces into the earth,
& miss the semaphore of bows & loop-de-loops before I walk out,
today, into a too-early spring day with you, sleeping in one arm.
Secret tongues of shoes, those little boats you tie up to unmoor,
what conspiracy will it be today, where are they plotting to take us?
Knots, language in which you can untie yourself from the world,
from the likely & the possible, words you can cut in half.
Maybe there’s a knot that could stand in for robin in Inupiat,
language of the Alaskan Eskimos, since there is no word for robin,
they’ve never needed one: lariats & trefoils in horsehair or blue ribbons
for nape & tail feather, a Portugese bowline for hollow bones (is it true
they walk out into the next snowstorm when it’s their time to go?).
Last night I dreamed a knot of your hair drifted on a river, just beyond
my reach. A perfect despair. A perfect circle of hair, though that might be
impossible, even electrons have rough edges, even the circles
of the underworld, & the gold record borne on the Voyager spacecraft
that drifts forever, like the Hunter Gracchus, through space,
even that record with one hundred hellos scratched in one hundred
languages has its flaws. Scratched like your face, when you Houdini
out of your swaddle straightjacket & jab yourself with your fingernails
when you startle awake. Love is the dream of the dying, I want to tell you,
or maybe just another dying, some bloodknot of light that weaves us
to each other, but you’re beyond language—or yet to recognize it
in your thirty days upon this earth. You wrap your hand around
my finger—a circle, if the diameter is all the days I’ll be missing you,
& even in this circle there is an infinite pi that holds our lives somewhere
in its sea of decimals—as it begins to snow on this lonely avenue.
Snows right through my chest when I watch you sleep. What does your
tomorrow look like? What do your dreams look like the day after?
Forgive me my failings. My lack of ambition. I thought my shoes
would take me somewhere. I have no way to tell you what your hair
is like in my hand, on this day, one of the last days I’ll have more hair
than you. You may as well be in space, where the earth
is a bluewhite circle far away, a rounded lily, a boutonnière on the lapels
of space. And tomorrow, or a day far hence I hope, a perfect flower
on my dark suit, when I’m laid out, when you let go of my hand.
In the sound of pellet snow falling
on still-green leaves, magnolia & oak,
I hear ten thousand brushes on the high hat,
someone whispering for Elijah,
time scraping ghost towns
from the map. I hear the last
percussive rasp of the song
cut off by the bone saw’s cry
yesterday in the slaughterhouse.
A vanished song for the vanished,
one for the windows of ice
the wind’s cleared from the snow
on the reservoir. Lakeside,
I catch myself thinking the patches
are all the nights we won’t get back—
if I look long enough
I’ll see a face I loved.
I don’t know who I’m waiting for.
Childhood friends, old loves.
Maybe my grandfather’s face,
unmarked by death.
Maybe the pages of my life’s history
in the unreadable scrawl
of the town drunk will appear
in the onyx glass,
color of the night hours
that find my grandmother awake
belted to her insomnia.
Give it time. Soon the faces
will begin to surface
like coins, like a well giving up
its wishes. And when they do,
they’ll have no more to say
than we do, when I ask them
what this morning is the empty
throat of, what happens to all
flesh, or just what the question is,
if our passing’s the answer.
-from Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining, Red Hen Press (July 3, 2018)
MARK WAGENAAR is the author of three prize-winning books of poetry, including the just-released Saltman Prize-winning Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining, from Red Hen Press. His other two are Voodoo Inverso and The Body Distances (A Hundred Blackbirds Rising), winner of the Pollak Prize and the Juniper Prize, respectively. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from The New Yorker, 32 Poems, Field, Southern Review, Tin House, River Styx, Cincinnati Review, Image, and many others, and he has won a variety of prizes, including the James Wright Poetry Prize, the Mary C. Mohr Poetry Prize, the CBC Poetry Prize, the Auburn Poetry of Witness Prize, the New Letters Prize, and the Pinch Poetry Prize. He holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of North Texas, an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Virginia, & an M.A. in English from the University of Northern Iowa. A former Halls Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, and Summer Poet-in-Residence at Ole Miss, he is an Assistant Professor at Valparaiso University.