Friday, April 8, 2016

Two Poems by Jeffrey Skinner

Hey Nineteen

My hands poured acid down the blue walls
of the pool, while the rich wife inside tended to
who knows what—her elegant miseries, her African
and the man of the house shattered clay discs
crossing the sun. “Hey nineteen!” my partner Ed
called up from a hissing cloud, “Where’s
yer mind?” I stopped pouring and his face
stuck up out of the mist, furious and sour
at thirty-five, half a life gone
to seasonal work and a wife who pushed
him away, even on good nights. That day
lasted all summer, and I stayed inside
myself, a boarder in my parent’s house,
scrambling eggs in the kitchen while mother
ripped through her mysteries in the den.
There was a lost love involved, naturally,
and an old grammar-school friend who
turned up one night with a zig-zag scar
down his cheek, and a baggie of good dope.
We climbed the reservoir fence at midnight,
sat by a doubled moon at the lake’s shore
and talked like Chinese poets till dawn.
We agreed that rebirth gets tiresome, even
within one life, and that the brain
is sad and lonesome up in its tower,
connected to the mainland by cables only.
Vietnam was one senior year away, or Canada,
or Sweden; a savage tender marriage
five years away, and the idiot’s discovery
that literature would not save me
ten years or more. But at nineteen you can work
without sleep, you can dream without sleep,
and I rode the pick-up to the next dry pool
in Greenwich strangely happy, Flaubert
tucked in my back pocket for reading on breaks
while Ed sat and smoked, staring at the rich man’s
slate roof, the wavering aura of noon heat.

Prayer to Wasp on the Occasion of Its Execution
You entered my face
like a whore’s nails,
blew the skin out
red and dangerous
as a balloon
filled with gas.
Twelve years old,
I lurched
home, new pennies
slid from my jeans
ticking the side-
walk. Friends
dropped their mitts
and stared.
Only creature
I still kill,
prying your stucco
nests from rafters,
hearing the sound
of your body
breaking underfoot—
brittle, crushed
paper flower—
forgive this un—
vengeance. Today
your descendant
enters through a hole
in the screen,
slow and fumbling,
falls off
the sill to my
desk. I will send
him back to God
using the sonnets
of Frederick
Tuckerman, an old
favorite, sad
lush lines to a dead
wife. Please convey
my regrets
to the Absent One—
I have not loved
all, or enough
without words,
lies or poisoned
Have mercy on me.

Jeffrey Skinner has published six books of poetry: Late Stars, Wesleyan University Press; A Guide to Forgetting, Graywolf Press; The Company of Heaven, Pitt Poetry Series; Gender Studies, Miami University Press; Salt Water Amnesia, Ausable Press; and Glaciology, Southern Illinois University Press.

Skinner’s poems have been published in such periodicals as Poetry, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Poetry Review, Paris Review, Georgia Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, and others. He is also a playwright and essayist.

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