The street-smart chime of the chainmail net rings From down at the Peaceful Valley court where Tod and Henry clang away on iron rims That don’t forgive much, beneath the concrete stairs That lead to Brown’s Addition where the doctors Ordered houses built by men who live hereabouts. Henry’s shorts are saggin’, his teen-aged pockets Knee-high as he rags his pap’s horrible Defense down low, while his son scoops another Underhanded layup that surprises His dad every time. In my day, a father Misplayed his kid’s bunt with obvious wild Throws that led to an infield home run— The lies we tell ourselves are half the game.
Northbound on 395
Two cars ahead on the highway a deer Stepped out of the fog and into the grille Of a small red car, a new one, and we All came to a stop: young woman, deer, and me. If what happened next was supposed to be Some sort of Blessing or Benediction I say no thanks: send me straight to Hell. The deer, a yearling the size of a toddler In a hard winter, pawed the snow and blew Sprays of blood from its nostrils, going, not Yet gone. I broke the plastic fender off And asked her to pop the trunk, where I found The bent tire iron that would, momentarily, Loose us both from that wild, appraising eye.
Sonnet for a Baby Seal
Not the one you see on television, Head tilted up to look like a whiskered Infant, those pleading, liquid eyes . . . this one Was real, on black Alaskan sand, ridiculous With an eagle beating its wings against The seal’s head, both screaming, the pup too young To get away, too old to die all at once. The eagle, talons buried, pecked at one Eye only, to force a way in. Of course I beat the eagle off with driftwood. Yes, I tried to kill the baby seal. No one Could say I didn’t try hard enough. But when I turned to leave, it swam away, Blinded, silent, bearing news from Hell.
Why does he have to wind up on my dash- board, barely strong enough to hover, much less pose any kind of threat: black- striped stinger pulsing like a lover? Why am I so sure it’s a He, impotent little death-dealer? In my beat-down car, we’re stuck together: dying insect, feeble, humped against the glass, starved for one sip of the holy grape that droops just beyond the veil, succulent cluster gone overripe and unpicked, wasted fruits, lost opportunities and the stray disaster just a windshield away. Stiffly, the window driver’s side rolls down. Stumbling, off we go.
Dennis Held is the author of two poetry collections: Betting on the Night and Ourself, in which these poems originally appeared. He lives in Spokane, Washington, along Latah Creek.