Museum Guard

David Hernandez
My condolences to the man dressed
for a funeral, sitting bored
on a gray folding chair, the zero

of his mouth widening in a yawn.
No doubt he's pictured himself inside
a painting or two around his station,

stealing a plump green grape
from the cluster hanging above
the corkscrew locks of Dionysus,

or shooting arrows at rosy-cheeked cherubs
hiding behind a woolly cloud.
With time limping along

like a Bruegel beggar, no doubt
he's even seen himself taking the place
of the one crucified: the black spike

of the minute hand piercing his left palm,
the hour hand penetrating the right, 
nailed forever to one spot.

More by David Hernandez

Mosul

The donkey. The donkey pulling the cart.
The caravan of dust. The cart made of plywood,
of crossbeam and junkyard tires. The donkey
made of donkey. The long face. The long ears.
The curled lashes. The obsidian eyes blinking
in the dust. The cart rolling, cracking the knuckles
of pebbles. The dust. The blanket over the cart.
The hidden mortar shells. The veins of wires.
The remote device. The red light. The donkey
trotting. The blue sky. The rolling cart. The dust
smudging the blue sky. The silent bell of the sun.
The Humvee. The soldiers. The dust-colored
uniforms. The boy from Montgomery, the boy
from Little Falls. The donkey cart approaching.
The dust. The laughter on their lips. The dust
on their lips. The moment before the moment.
The shockwave. The dust. The dust. The dust.

SS Nevertheless

The widower in silk pajamas slides
his hand along a glossy blue sleeve,

thinking, Water to fabric, rivulet
slipped through a needle’s eye.

He’s all ripples when he moves,
all waves breaking against flesh.

He read in the paper the human body is
80 percent water. He is almost

a brook when he wanders
around the yard, practically a river

flowing upstream when climbing stairs,
the distant past of Pacific salmon

leaping over his shoulders. He naps
for hours on a king-size, the mattress

dimpled where two bodies slept
together for decades. Dreaming,

he is the relative of that lake
where he tipped the urn overboard.

What was left of her the water
dissolved, becoming the water

and the lulling blue sounds it made
while he paddled back to land.

Varieties of Internal Torment

Under the linden, a weatherworn
bench. Eleven wooden slats in all

to build a simple thing for sitting.
The one still generating green,

shawled in August sunlight,
hovers over the one chainsawed

and hauled to the lumberyard.
Each time it was split, sawdust leapt.

The bench was built. Years passed
and now a pair of students sit together.

One has something impossible to say
without hurting the other.

Hunched, bent from the burden of it,
while the sun continues to

spangle the linden, green flame
after green flame, their faces dappled

in leaf-shadow. He knows he must
confess, how to hammer the sentences

with enough nails spiking out
from compressed lips. It will be over

soon, his hesitation marked by
how red the stripes behind her thighs.