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  • Nicholas Rattner

Five Poems

Lux Labor

Remember the maw of the shears

surrendered to a shake shingle shed,

which stands on the edge of a sleeve

of meadow next to the woods,

and our words like dirt stuck to shovels

that now are the quiet instruments

of the trenches we dug, and the road

clearing its throat of the day’s last traveler,

as a summer moon begins to thread

the mountain laurel, and the stars

show through the moth-eaten sky,

a weaving of darkness, a voice, a cool breeze

moving around our bodies, our gathering,

as a radio spills pomegranate seeds

of Sonny Rollins

Way Out West

for his anniversary, the purple caves

of sound overflowing with his breath

and spreading in our landscape

as your water-worded hair sweeps across

my tired chin. In your gaze,

thoughts twist like grass

that juts from a broken bench

until the mood shifts, you head inside,

and the pine chair’s back

looks like a church’s boarded window

streaked with rain in mute and humid air,

as the yard begins to unsay in darkness,

so I can’t see your mouth or the screen door

from which you praise the work we did,

a memory that will rise in flowers

I am unlikely to see because we turned

this land for the ghosts of rain,

a nameless tune, sweet and green

as mint and lime, swirling

in this cup while the tree frogs call

for their slivers of continuance.

Local Gods

You cut the engine on the shoulder,

and we let the mild slope pull closed

the old red Cutlass doors, flicking,

at the same time, our cherries,

like tracers into the drainage’s

collected water, somehow there

all seasons to rehearse the sky.

Town has pulled us back, you

from the Air Force and me

to visit my mother, who keeps asking

where you are. We cut across

the bankrupt fallow to an empty silo,

tramping wild ginseng and catalpa,

the purple heads peering through

the yellow mash made by the winter

of our Red Wings. Inside the cylinder,

sun splays on the dented ribs

a pollen-yellow under which the steel

seems to breath. The light shifts, and

the outlines of bales of hay go blue,

the vacant steel now flush

with the fatigue of an era.

It’s all coming back to me.

Our fingers smell of cigarettes and rust,

the edges of mistake, and upward

our smoke clears a tattered dome.

It merges with the hanging clouds,

tinged the white of the withers of a horse,

gliding into view. Below the imagined eyes,

our gazes are turned upward through

the aperture, so near that we can sense

the other’s heat. No moon tonight, and the silo

candles in the full dark, seeming

to breath a little nearer.

We know it’s time to cross the field,

to go back or maybe onward, so we stumble

over decades-old divots, hearing the other’s

grunts and laughter as the musings

of beloved if featureless guides.

Phlox Subulata

Metered by a support pylon and the mesh

cradle of a planter, the cascade of phlox deflects

my grandmother’s intentions into mauve,

its lush obtrusion offering an unforeseen

pathway. The awl-shaped leaves require deference

from anyone who wants to see

the far end where recycled water and imported

rocks tell the story of a river absent

for its being said. Purple flowers of memory,

she taught me their Latin name,

which I forget, but everywhere her eye

for classical proportion lives in leafs and colors

that compliment the limits of their neighbors.

Resentment mostly given way to thanks,

I bend to tear away a ryegrass coil

and read the story of the phlox

as the space between our hands.

Talisman of Coils and Foam

My father painted these clapboards

sky blue thirty years ago,

sipping a Rolling Rock,

face growing red,

pulling a Pall Mall

from the pack with his lips.

The work has given his back

a fern- or question mark-like crook;

he appears to want to listen,

but the words I have for him

have within the decades

become reservoirs of color.

My way of speaking is to take

an old mattress, paint it red,

and fold its musty geometry

against the out-building.

It’s too much for him to lift,

and so the yard begins

to wear its heir’s artifice.

We have made each other

inside a fence of generation.

Now my father ambles

down the central path,

Pall Mall yet between his lips,

and when he bends to pluck

a strand of frog grass,

his hands are rags

soaked with turpentine.

I watch him from my window.

He stomps softly by the oaks,

witnesses from whom acorns fall,

old listeners with eyes of crow shriek

in whom smoke gathers as he expels it.

In the hour before dinner

when the sun sinks down,

it feels like all of them can see me.

The Last Castrato

The Sistine Chapel stage

gave my voice a life to amplify,

to be haunted by the body

hanging just behind, and

my body grew into its work.

My job is to sing, to never miss.

Heaven’s notes take muscle.

When it’s over, the soprano

tessitura, I take my chance

to rooster, to let clergy

and the donors know:

your applause belong to me,

not to that voice still spreading

your childhood on inner walls.

I am Alessandro Moreschi.

Who else could have held

for forty years these notes

over the fire of their youth?

Nick Rattner lives in Houston. He has taught English at Holyoke Community College and at Smith College and coached high school basketball. He is a former basketball journalist and Editor for Ugly Duckling Presse. Recent work can be found in Salt Hill, Grist, The Ekphrastic Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Beautiful Losers, Asymptote, Exchanges, and InTranslation. With Marta del Pozo, he has translated the work of poets Yván Yauri and Czar Gutiérrez. At present, he is translating the work of Spanish poet Juan Andrés García Román.

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