Three Poems by Al Maginnes

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Sentinel Moon

The lake is one page in the book of moonlight.
But only one. The moon, like water, requires
distance to do its intended work. Tonight, when
the air is cold enough to ice the lake’s fringe
and little stars burn echoes into the still face
of water, I could be forgiven for letting cold beauty
convince me of a world without sin. So it was
when the earth’s crust steamed and the first scruffs
of green crept outward. Sin requires motion.
The boy outside the store with a gun under his sweatshirt
still needs to walk inside and ask for what
he thinks he needs to stop his mind’s whirling.
But salvation requires motion as well. Fortunately
for believers, we live within a universe whose
sole constant is motion. Even now a capital burns.
A militia debates which target will bring
the most attention. A sentry is staring into distance
gone watery in stillness and heat, wishing for
the clarity of night, the easy assurance of the moon,
a beacon whispering there are places other than this.
The life now distant from his has hidden on another
of moonlight’s pages, where the birds of the woods
where he used to walk and smoke make wide turns
over the lake. One day he’ll walk into a store to buy
beer or a bag of chips for a friend’s party, then go
his way, but not before seeing, like heat-vision
or a flutter of moon-shadow, the cold watchful moon
on the night he stood outside a store like this one,
deciding whether to pull his father’s gun
and walk inside or turn around and walk home.

 

 

A Fiction for Newton

I don’t see a planet
or eviction from Eden

or even props for a still life
when I hold an apple,

only the rude breaking
of your country nap when

the tree released the fruit
and it hammered into

your afternoon dreams.
I know the story

is legend; Stukely claimed
the two of you were sitting

in a garden sipping tea
when an apple dropped

and you wondered why down
and not sideways or

hovering level with the tree branch,
but always down.

And that question begat
an order never articulated

by the universe before.
An order reducing

or expanding all things
into the hard frame

of mathematics, the tool
scientists use to explore

and explain the link
between all things, each

of us a cipher inside
one endless equation

or the next although
there is no round number

for the logic
of my student who said

she was thinking of getting
a job in a strip club

because they would finance
a boob job, her chance

to beat gravity in exchange
for a few nights of bump

and grind. I’ve hammered
torn chords on my guitar

all night, counting the pulse
of my foot on the floor

into an equation
whose root and solution

escapes me. We wish
mysteries unraveled

to their bare elements,
one reason I watch videos

of guitar players breaking
their toughest licks down

to a string and a note
at a time, letting me

repeat the motions until
they are barely music,

only facts that provide
a place where theories

of melody and counterpoint
have their say. I can’t parse

the letters and sign
of your shorthand, Newton,

for gravity and time
any more than I can

read music. According
to predictions,

in a million decades,
give or take a millennium,

your formulas, the ink
that fixed them to the page,

the dots that guide
musicians through the valleys

and ridges of the score
will all come undone.

Rosin will rise from strings
in small whirlwinds. Ink

will resign from
already-floating pages,

themselves about to fall
into dust and then

the nothingness that makes
room for dust to be born.

Hands will curl
into soft claws. Aimless,

we will be undone,
bodies no longer at rest

in the wide zero
that all our math

and music has always aimed
at forgetting in favor

of the present
and the endless work

designed to lift us
out of the falling

rhythms of time
into something like beauty.

 

 

The Moon, Like the Songs About the Moon, Continues

Near midnight. I’m listening to Chet Baker,
his trumpet low and warm, offsetting
the icy distances he sings from, beckoning us
to join him out where he is lost. Tonight,
I wanted a clear view of the stars, something
to excuse missing last night’s full moon,
its mirror of sun-work frosting the grass
and trees. It might be better not to admit
love for nature or music when it’s clear
the only mission of existence is change,
when the light-dome that fogs city skies blocks
any clear view of the sky until it’s too late
to walk outside and see. The developer who plans
condos on the moon and the kid who sells
envelopes of heroin, each one stamped with
a tiny drawing of the moon, both know
loving anything extracts a price. And too many
subtractions turns the moon to a toothless zero,
a lip-lorn kiss left on the wrong side
of the ledger, the hidden margin where
Chet Baker put down his horn to search
the ravaged midnight of his arm for a vein.
Someday, someone reading this might rest
in a cushioned recliner on one of the moon’s
bubbled resorts and listen to Chet Baker
while the slow blue stone of earth turns
in the night-colored distance. But tonight,
someone will decide not to commit suicide
and she will walk outside to find the moon
as it first appeared, luminous and capable
of handling any hope that lands there.

 

 

 

Al Maginnes has published six full-length collections of poetry and four chapbooks, most recently Music From Small Towns, winner of the Jacar Press Award for 2014, and Inventing Constellations (Cherry Grove Editions, 2012). He lives in Raleigh, N.C. and teaches at Wake Technical Community College.

Read more poetry by Al Maginnes appearing in Terrain.org.

Illustration of tree under night sky with stars and moon by Natali Snailcat, courtesy Shutterstock.

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