Three Poems by Lex Runciman

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From cataclysm we will not perish
all at the same time,
and the last two dozen polar bears will be captured,
housed and bred at great expense, like pandas,
as though they might one day find returned
climate, landscape, some place myopic clumsy love
might make for them to roam.

Crime fiction goes mainstream
says the New York Times: devious as a Cretan maze
the criminal mind caught, but not before snow
after snow, hurricanes named, tornados in OK,
drought in Riverside, the Somerset Levels
underwater. Yet even yet

best days arrive incoherent with kisses sweet,
and leafy shade, no thought for time,
evolution itself a bafflement of stars that made us
and peonies, salal, first crocus,
and salmonberry and bleeding heart. Wild Beauty,
2008, is not yet out of print: “Five in stock,
more coming.” We’d like to believe it.




Every day the boy woke
and surveyed the sloped ceiling
and listened for rain or robins or
footsteps in the kitchen below,
every day he stood warm in the shower’s water
before he dressed for school, every Saturday
he pitched Little League and secretly threw hard
at the shoulders of hitters he hated most,
every day in church, air a convection of motes
slanting on a drone, every day he ate tuna sandwiches,
every night he read late, 2 a.m., later,
and sometimes got caught and never wondered
at anyone else awake at that hour,
every punishment—ruler or no dinner, every chore
and first freeze of fall, ice-glaze of puddles,
last day of school, every such day
the woman who had carried him to his birth
walked somewhere though he had not
and would never meet her, and so too
his father. He knew this, but only
in that distant way one imagines infinity
or the surface of Jupiter. She existed
and he did not think of her. His father existed
and he did not wonder. And every day,
no one asked, and every day no one accused.
His mother and father as he ever would know them
slept not far from him. Every day he woke,
no one told them, his other parents, no one
told them he woke, and he never thought to.
Human as anyone, they must have wondered.
So at least this much they have lived
and known alike and accepted if not understood.




In the insanity that becomes Thursday, heads of deer
discover sprout horns that once emerged keep growing.
In the insanity that becomes Thursday, fish swim
upstream relentlessly, all they can do, gills
gaping, gills that have never heard of Mississippi,
or the beauty of its repetitions, or tornado alley,
or any hail that bodies run from. Even now in Asia
two hands have just picked up a violin and a bow.

No envelope for you in the mail today,
nor will the Black-Headed Grosbeak repeat for you
its sliding, compelling notes.
When Melville wrote Moby-Dick his family worried—
no surprise. What imagination lives can scare
anyone, and then at some point you look up
and no cord wood has split on its own
nor has the shed roof patched itself.




Lex Runciman’s fifth book, One Hour That Morning & Other Poems (Salmon Poetry, 2014), has just won the Julie Olds and Thomas Hellie Award for creative achievement from Linfield College, where he has taught since 1992.  A volume of poems selected and new is forthcoming, also from Salmon, in 2017.

Read more poetry by Lex Runciman appearing in, and read his essay, “The Place & the Photograph”.

Photo of polar bear on ice courtesy Shutterstock. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.