Monarch butterflies flying at sunset

Two Poems by Ralph Black

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Recurring Dream Song

             Nature, too, is boring—
a wave fondling a beach, perfecting
its essential imperfections,
saw grass nodding like anorexic nuns.

             We must not, as the saying says,
say so—but see how the wind gets snagged
like old stockings in the stunted pines?
Or how the flight of fifty thousand monarchs
invade our fragile privacies?

             You could ask the moon a question:
where are you going, all gimlet-eyed
and pouty? Where did you come from,
with no satchel for your poems,
no rouge for your sallow cheeks?

             Mr. Bashō whittles a walking stick
for Mr. Bones, tosses the shavings into the fire.
Their poems rise through the dark
like pinwheels, broadcasting spot fires
over the desiccated hills.

             See what I mean? I blame
the philosophers with their maudlin candles,
the seaglass shine of river pebbles
scrolled along the windowsill.
I blame the coyotes, with their raffish good looks,
snuffling up truffles and wedding bands,
thimbles packed with spider eggs.

             I’m smitten by the sun’s glaring headlines
same as the next guy—the way
the drumroll heartbeat of a shrew vies
with the hummingbird’s wingblur.
I admit my weaknesses—the shallow pool
of my inner resources.

             Nature, friends, is all dolled up,
poised to crash the party. No good fighting it.
Better to set another place at the table, fold
the napkins into prayer flags and sails.

             Better to pry the windows wide,
popping the roof like a beer keg, letting in
everything the daft wind carries
in its cheeks—honeybee and lichen, thistle seed
and locust husk, spider silk spelling out
another untranslatable epic—

             the swelling chorus
of an unadorned hour that might yet stave off
this wagging hunger.



Love Poem with Construction Site

This town above a river, below a cowl of peaks,
     this stacked and hammered assemblage—
beribboned tin, floating voices, orange moons,
     is revision revised. Every house is going up or
falling into itself, imploding cusp, tumbling
     clapboard, lintel and post, except for the one next door,
which is being dismantled and carted off by men
     with hammers and scarves, levers and woven baskets,
strut by elegant strut, even the interlapped bamboo mats
     that once were walls are clipped and stacked, even
the hand-hewn beams that kept the floors afloat,
     invisible for six or eight generations are hauled
into dusty light to become some new unfolded corner
     of the town. A window that has watched every season
drift into view is tacked into another blank canvas
     of wall, framing someone else’s ordinary day.
Your face is a trick of light hovering in the panes.
     Only the mist sifting through the green notch
slung across the valley is the same mist, torn each morning
     like parchment from the body of toppling clouds.
Your name is seeded in the folds. And my hands
     are the same hands, chipped like old paint
as they are pried from the front door and tossed like
     a pair of dry-rot gloves onto a heap of shingles and
rusted hinges. They lie there still, palms toward the
     sifted light, opening and closing like canvas moths,
cardboard trinkets patient for scraps of your voice
     in the wind, and the hundred thousand kisses
promised by the coming rain.




Ralph BlackRalph Black is the author of Turning Over the Earth (Milkweed Editions) and Bloom and Laceration, which won the 2017 Hopper Prize from Green Writers Press. He lives in Rochester, New York.

Header photo by Dotted Yeti, courtesy Shutterstock. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.