Opening Gambit

Two decommissioned highways cross
and continue toward their borders
with the casual certainty
the dead carry in their sample cases.
Leaning against the wind
I notice tufts of fur in the air
and a driveshaft rising from the sand,
then the horsehair of a violinist's bow
drawn steadily across my neck.



About this poem:
"Something I've always found meaningful and bewitching is a short poem's ability to exist at the crossroads of vastly real and vastly metaphorical landscapes—the universe captured in a fleeting, image-driven shapshot. Charles Simic claims there is a 'religion of the short poem,' and I think he's right. As for the poems I've been working on over the past year, which include 'Opening Gambit,' I've found myself at the altar of Yannis Ritos, James Wright, and John Haines."

Michael McGriff

Why I Am Obsessed with Horses

Because when I saw a horse
cross a river
and named it Ghost Rubble
it said No my name is 1935
because it also spoke in tongues
as it crossed the black tongue
of the water
because it still arcs through me
with its zodiac
of shrapnel-bright stars
because the river’s teeth
still gnash
against its flank
and its eyes
still have the luster
of black china
glowing black-bright
in the glass hutch of memory
because a horse’s skull
is a ditch of wildflowers
because a horse’s skull
is a box of numbers
a slop bucket
resting upside down
under barn eaves
wind in an empty stockyard
orange clay that breaks
shovel handles with a shrug
because a horse is the underwriter
of all motion
because a horse is the first
and last item
on every list
of every season
and because that night the air
smelled green as copper
and lath dust
and that night as it scrambled
up the bank and stamped past me
it said Unlike you
I am the source of all echoes.

Men Keep on Dying

              to the memory of Denis Johnson

The stranger bites into an orange
and places the rind between us
on the park bench.
It becomes a small raft of fire.

I came here to admire
the iron-lit indifference
of the geese on the pond.

The summers here
are a circuit in parallel
with everything I cannot say,
wrote the inventor
before he was hanged
from the bridge
this park is named after.
His entire life devoted
to capturing inextinguishable light
in a teardrop of enamel.
He was hanged for touching
the forehead of another man
in the wrong century.

The only thing invented
by the man I lost yesterday
was his last step into a final
set of parenthesis.
I came here to watch the geese
and think of him.

The stranger and I
share the orange rind
as an ashtray.
He lights my cigarette
and the shadows of our hands
touch on the ground.

His left leg is amputated
below the knee
and the bell tower rings
above the town.
I tell him my name
and he says nothing.

With the charred end of a stick
something shaped like a child
on the other side of the pond
draws a door on a concrete wall
and I wonder where the dead
wait in line to be born.

Related Poems

Killing Flies

I sit down for dinner
with my dead brother
again

This is the last dream I ever want to have

Passing the forks 
around the table, passing 
the knives

There's nothing to worry about

One thing I want to know is who's in the kitchen right now if it isn't me

It isn't me

The kitchen is full of flies, flies are doing all the work

They light on the edge
of the roasted chicken
The bone china

That's what they do

Light


*


I will look 
more and more like him
until I'm older
than he is

Then he'll look more like me

if I was 
lost

The flies need to be killed as soon as we're done eating this delicious meal they made

They serve us anything we want 
in toxic green tuxedos
and 

shit wings

My brother and I wipe our mouths
scrape our chairs back from the table
and stand up

These are the last things we'll do together:

Eat dinner

Kill flies


*

You have to lie down
next to the bodies, shining 
all in a row
like black sequins
stitching up 
the kitchen floor

It's hard to do but you have to do it

Quietly lay down 
and not sleep

We were killing them with butcher knives but moved on to spatulas to save time and energy

Sticking their eyes 
onto our earlobes and wrists
like Egyptian
jewelry

My brother and I work hard all night

He is my emergency exit

I am  
his

dinner date