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Wading low through marsh and grass,
quick and cautious, the crane, too,
knows this: there is a freedom
in submitting to another. Cranes mate
for life. With necks outstretched,
they take flight, a double arrow's stab
of silver, released and then gone.
I have searched for nourishment
in you, like a long, black beak
in the earth. How was I to know
what I would find there? Every night,
we shrieked our presence to each other,
desire or grief lacquering us onto our lives
like birds on a paneled screen.
All winter long, the men built
another bridge, stacking slabs of metal
and concrete near the barrier island
where we lived. I was worried we had fallen
from each other. Silent on the beach,
we watched machines hoisted on and off
the earth. Standing one-legged in the marsh:
a crane, all steel and orange light,
binding the horizon.
What will become of us? I almost said.
Gulls wove in and out of the cables,
shrieking up and down within the stacks,
in unison, I noticed, with our breath.
It almost looked like a living thing.
Lying on my stomach, reading
Crane's letters again, I felt a hand
behind me. Orange light pressed
the window. The hand that touched
my shoulder was yours ("I know now
there is such a thing as indestructibility").
Your confessor, I listened for your breath
("the cables enclosing us and pulling
us upward"), but felt only the ceiling fan,
and traffic, somewhere, chafing against
a wet street. Then, your lips on my neck
("I think the sea has thrown itself upon me
and been answered") before I closed the book
and turned my body under yours.
From the outset I hated the city of my ancestors.
I was fearful I'd be put in the dungeon below
the cathedral. The best example of the Romanesque
a guide was saying in German in English in French
where are buried eight German kings four queens
twenty-three bishops four Holy Roman Emperors
all of whom used this bishopric on the river as the seat
of the kingdom. On the old gate at one end a clock
told an ancient form of time. I sulked along behind
my parents as the guide gave facts about the war
with the Saracens about the place where the Jews bathed
about the child like me whose father the Peaceful
having already produced an heir by his first marriage
could marry for love.
Once nothing separated us but the gossamer
of sheets--white and gauzy in the summer, when a world
of heat blew in, inflating
the curtains into the room that was his
and mine, when no one else was there--
nothing between the body, whose hot-bloodedness,
whose frailty I had come to know
the duration of my life,
and the body
he drank cool water with, the body he salted, mile after mile
along the coast, fucked me with, with which
he told me what troubled him
--the two of us in our bed
of Egyptian cotton.
The sea reflected us, our human emotions.
Then the sea refused us, like the sea.
-from Second Empire, selected by Guest Editor Phillip B. Williams
BIO: Richie Hofmann is the author of a collection of poems, Second Empire (Alice James Books, 2015), winner of the 2014 Beatrice Hawley Award. He is the recipient of a 2012 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and his poems appear in the New Yorker, Kenyon Review, the New Republic, Ploughshares, New England Review, the New Criterion, Yale Review, and Poetry. He has been featured in the New York Times Style Magazine, on Poetry Daily, on the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, in the anthology, Best New Poets 2014, and in Poets & Writers Featured Debuts of 2015. He has received the John Ciardi Scholarship from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Peter Taylor Fellowship from Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, the Tennessee Williams Scholarship from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a scholarship from the New York State Summer Writers Institute, and the Michael Peich Scholarship from West Chester Poetry Conference. A graduate of the University Professors Program at Boston University and the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars MFA program, he is a doctoral candidate at Emory University, where he has held the Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry, and also teaches in the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. With Kara van de Graaf, he founded Lightbox, an online educational resource featuring original interviews with poets and materials for classroom use. He lives in Chicago.