Wednesday Feb 21

AlMaginnes Al Maginnes is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Ghost Alphabet which won the 2007 White Pine Poetry Prize, and was published in October of 2008, Dry Glass Blues (Pudding House Publications, 2007), a single long poem published as a chapbook and Film History (Word Tech Editions, 2005). A former recipient of an Individual Artists Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, his poems have appeared in many national and regional journals and anthologies as well as the websites Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and How A Poem Happens. He lives with his family in Raleigh, NC and teaches at Wake Technical Community College.



Before Elegy

Toward the back of a friend’s new book I find
an elegy for someone I knew, a man I met
too briefly to claim as a friend but someone
I shared a couple of evenings, some drinks
and stories with, before our paths diverged
as casually as they had crossed. I read the poem
marking his death while I held the mask
of a nebulizer over my daughter’s face,
trying to clear her sinuses that clog with
any shift in the weather. At her pre-school
I’m old enough to be the father of some
of the other parents, a math I ignore
except when news of an early death—
and these days more and more seem early—
reaches me. Time has its single direction,
and no surgery or chemicals, no yoga
or gym routine allows subtraction.
Even poems, however immortal we hope
they might be, will not extend our share
of time. On one of the programs
my daughter watches—shows relentless
in their need to educate, to enhance
creativity and “metacognition,” whatever
that may prove to be--the hero sends words
through the apparatus of a spinning wheel
and an object emerges. Isn’t that
what we wish: to have our words become
the beauty or horror they describe? Usually,
the opposite is what happens—we have
something with no inherent language,
like grief, and we must find words.
So we fill our paper with phrases that say
trees, say distant stars, say trucks hollowed
for parts, rusting back to earth, all placed
to illustrate a heart able to know
absence and joy at once, the grief of discovery
not forgotten but folded into the body,
shadow that deepens my joy at chasing
my daughter through the morning
of a day that will not last and likely
will not be remembered even if
we breathe it all the way in and use
the best words we know to write it down.

The Mute Amnesia of Birds

I try not to lie when I claim
the inevitable does not concern me,
nor do its emissaries, the anonymous
crows who swoop and claw above
the winter brown remains of my yard,
frightening squirrels busy hoarding
and forgetting what they’ve hidden.
To push my feet across the floor,
to make coffee and open the paper
requires forgetting yesterday’s bad news
about caffeine and the deaths folded
into silent ink, everything waiting
to unravel under turning shadows
of the birds, each one spinning loose,
separated from a central motion
we suspect but never quite grasp.
Unlike the birds, we are rarely sure
where to stake a claim. They are fierce
in their territories, chasing trespassers
across invisible boundaries. If they fret
over God or why they should tithe
some portion of what they consume
to their feathered deity, they utter
their complaints in a language
I can’t translate. In the end,
all our griping over taxes and weather,
raking leaves and holiday visits
is subtracted to the simple fact
of our deaths and how we will face it,
one more reason I aspire
to the mute amnesia of birds,
not when they dive at squirrels
and scream their raw gossip, but when,
like now, they float high and silent
as the ash all things become though,
like us, they have no language for it.