After You Have Vanished

Kevin Prufer

The little red jewel in the bottom of your wineglass
is so lovely I cannot rinse it out,

so I go into the cool and grassy air to smoke. 
Which is your warmly lit house

past which no soldiers march to take the country back?
When you reached across the table to touch my hand

is not attainable. I cannot recapture it.

And no gunners lean on their artillery at the city’s edge,
looking our direction,

having shot the sky full of bright holes. 

The light bleeds from them
and it always will. 

Long ago, they captured our city
and now they are our neighbors,

going about their business like they were
one of us.

Soon, like you, they will be asleep,
having washed the dishes and turned out the kitchen lights.

When I inhale, smoke occupies me. 
When I exhale—

By morning the wine in the bottom of your glass
will have clotted.

I’m sorry I called it a jewel.
It is not the soldiers who have shot me full of holes.

It is not light that pours out.
Love did this.

I was filled with wine.
Now I am drained of it. 

More by Kevin Prufer

There Is No Audience for Poetry

They wanted him to stop kicking like that—
it made their eyes corkscrew, drilled the sun in the sky
so light dumped out like blood from a leak.
The boy in the trunk wouldn't die.

They drove and drove, and he dented the trunk's tight lid,
called their names, then pounded the wheel wells
with a tire iron. The sun filled
their skulls so they felt like hell

and the boy in the trunk wouldn't listen. You'd think
it was burning hot in there, you'd think he'd be gone,
passive, but no. The boy in the trunk
banged on and on

until the noise grew godalmighty unforgivable
and they had no choice but to pull into the woods,
leave the car, try to hitch a ride with someone
quieter, someone who could

listen without interrupting. They'd had a hot day.
The road simmered to the overheated sky.
But from far away they still heard him, the boy
in the trunk, his empty cry.

In a Beautiful Country

A good way to fall in love
is to turn off the headlights
and drive very fast down dark roads.

Another way to fall in love
is to say they are only mints
and swallow them with a strong drink.

Then it is autumn in the body.
Your hands are cold.
Then it is winter and we are still at war.

The gold-haired girl is singing into your ear
about how we live in a beautiful country.
Snow sifts from the clouds

into your drink. It doesn't matter about the war.
A good way to fall in love
is to close up the garage and turn the engine on,

then down you'll fall through lovely mists
as a body might fall early one morning
from a high window into love. Love,

the broken glass. Love, the scissors
and the water basin. A good way to fall
is with a rope to catch you.

A good way is with something to drink
to help you march forward.
The gold-haired girl says, Don't worry

about the armies, says, We live in a time
full of love. You're thinking about this too much.
Slow down. Nothing bad will happen.

A Story About Dying

The old cat was dying in the bushes.
Its breaths came slow, slow, 
                                          and still
it looked out over the sweetness of the back lawn,
the swaying of tall grass in the hot wind,
the way sunlight warmed the garbage can's 
sparkling lid.  
                   It closed its hot eyes, 
then struggled them open again.

+

In unison, the dogs explained themselves
to the passing freight train.

+

I don't know where it's gone, 
her husband said without looking up from his paper

while she stood on the back porch shaking the food bowl,
calling one of its names.   

+

All this the dying old cat observed 
from beneath the bushes, its head
sideways in the grass, its fur wet where the dog
had caught it in its teeth.

+

And now there's another train, 
and the dogs are explaining themselves again.  

+

The food makes that sparkling sound in the metal bowl 
and the cat tries to lift its body from the grass

but it's feeling hollowed out, empty and strange
as though it's floating just above the tips of grass, 
as if its paws barely touch the blades' rich points.

+

Sometimes, the dogs explain themselves to each other, 
or to passing cars, but mostly they address the trains.
We are powerful dogs, they say,
                                            but we are also good,
while the children on bikes, while the joggers, 
while the vast, mysterious trains 
                                              pass them by.

+

The cat is still drifting above the grass tips,
and the sun is so bright the yard sparkles,

and wouldn't it be nice to rest there on the garbage can's hot lid, 
there by the potted plant, there on the car's hood?

But it wants the food glittering in the metal bowl,
the food that, also, drifts above the grass tips.

+

And then the cat floats down the tracks, 
the train's long call a whistling in its head.

+

And the dogs explain themselves to it,
we are good dogs, good dogs, 
                                        as the cat grows
impossibly far away, we are good dogs, 
as the cat is almost a memory, 
   
is barely a taste in the mouth 
of one of the chorus.

Related Poems

Old Wine

If I could lift
    My heart but high enough
    My heart could fill with love:

But ah, my heart
    Too still and heavy stays
    Too brimming with old days.