Tuesday Apr 23

CheneyColin Colin Cheney’s collection of poems, Here Be Monsters (U of Georgia P, 2010), was selected for the National Poetry Series. He has received a Ruth Lilly Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize. He is a founding editor of Tongue: A Journal of Writing & Art. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand, with his wife and daughter.


China Beach

Nothing’s eaten half this silver fish,
the same nothing refusing to swallow
this sickle of waning moon dark.
And still we hurl our nets to the riptide’s coming.
Because she knows you don’t give a damn,
sea pours herself into quart rooms
&, fingerless, knots them off & leaves you
with the tide: microcosm, aquaria
you empty into the sink
after the church fair goldfish always died.
No one taught me any better.
Out of the failing light, the Buddha & Virgin
across the oil tanker harbor at mountain
have nothing, inshallah, to say to you.
Steel yourself against the joy of children
whose faces nothing has warped & denied,
re-written & grotesque.
Why did no one teach me any better?
There’s a star fruit that cannot bear exposure to this.
There’s a syringe for a kid fear.
Grandfather walks naked in the runoff shallow,
pausing for balance
before stepping back into his shorts.
The guidebook says I should offer them flowers,
the soldiers walking heavy up out the dirty waves.

Weeds in Winter

We hunt what’s already lost.
Field madder, bittercress
sketches for what you’d find if winter
were afterlife. Or afterlife merely dormancy.
Pretending Christ, a man is cat-o-nine-tailed
up 44th under his cross to play
Golgotha on the soccer field’s
balding earth by sunset. Gospels: poems
trying to cohere, but only one
scratches vengeance free, allows a thief
to beg Take me with you.
What need I steal to be
crucified? My guide to Weeds
in Winter
doesn’t say what knowing
ghost-husk of primrose or pepperweed
redeems save the inexact lyric
we hide in this failing taxonomy.
So Jesus & a thief stroll an empty
heaven with only a gut-sense
for landscape: saplings’ first
green fire, a migration of something
like robins. Waiting for the world to begin
dying again so I’ll have someone to save,
someone to deny. Newly married,
a couple (I’ve x’ed out my parents
here from the page—
                                rifled the cemetery
dumpster for flowers the groundskeeper
took up once a week from the graves.
Rusting lilies, sunflowers, a clutch
of roses in fog cellophane
they’d make theirs & arrange
in some configuration becoming this
home. Sometimes, they’d find a plastic
iris or tulip mixed in with the living
dying on the kitchen table. Plastic:
because there are no real ones in heaven.

Strangler Fig

Tonight walks the rainforest of you,
& the ecologist’s English fails the imagination
between what’s beginning, just, to sleep,
& what’s waking. Some bird is
almost a 7-inch country song of carbon
repeating ‘til dawn, a turntable in the roots
with the orange-kneed tarantula. Old nightmare
cleared for palm oil, the clouds fall
through a copse of gutted, cusp legality
& the Madagascan rosewood in the neck
of my guitar. (The vinyl my father left
spinning so the folktales could re-jig
our genome; something in my bowels
either dysentery or lust—
                                      Writing in the speech
of dream does more to destroy the real
than any of this. Maybe the poem’s a strangler
fig spending years to envelop the other
at heart. When the fig is felled she’s sequestered
in your dining room table, winter suburb.
Mahogany, sapele, we’ll take it in turns
dreaming while the other’s dying until
one of us wakes, unable to breathe, or move,
until understanding you, you’re gone, or I am.
The forest dying back into myself.