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James Gurley


The Semi-civilized Tree

for Nazim Ozel, Turkish-born musician and visual artist

Nazim strips bark from an old oak.
Overlays the branches with countless
wires he tunes to weird harp-like
scales, tones that call to the hunters,
forest spirits, small-voiced echoes

waiting there in the trees. His hands
seek resonances. Not music
to bring order, congruity to our lives,
not Mozart and Brahms, their
measured signatures. It's these mysteries

celebrated in glades, these ancient rites
testing our ears to hear, bodies
to remember, Nazim finds, the resilience
of wood and string, earth notes,
cry of a jay, wind through pliant boughs.



This Riot Life

Out of the black hole’s deep throat, a bass note.
                                               — CNN Headline

Come dusk the sky turns violet blue
and out for a walk in our neighborhood
we hear a train diesel hum   electrical hum
akin to that B-flat note astronomers
discovered in the Perseus cluster

Is it a dead star’s gravity   A celestial
imbalance   This dissonance scientists
mapped in the heavens while down here
is a racket of bombings and scandals
on radio newscasts?   This malaise

this riot life on our walk   Moonlight
spillage exposes a raccoon scurrying
across ice-dazzled lawns   City adrenaline
hard to shut out with winter’s
arsenal of storms approaching off shore

We hear that hum   Our shoes rustling
fallen leaves   A static of pulsars
in that camouflaged raccoon
upending garbage cans   In closed
parks   For-rent signs   Old cardboard

shelters   Those weedy empty lots
Lowest pitch of our discordant universe
This black-hole acoustics darkening
our streets   This disquiet we can’t help
but carry with us back home



James Gurley's first book of poems, Human Cartography, won the T. S. Eliot Prize and was published by Truman State University Press. His work has appeared most recently in Crab Orchard Review, Unsplendid, and Verse Wisconsin. The poems included here are from a recently completed manuscript titled Organic Radio.
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