The Problem With Sappho

Charles Rafferty

Only one complete poem remains. The rest of it is berries left in the bramble after a visit from midday starlings. For years I couldn't understand how this redaction moved anyone to tears. She was a dampness in the matchbook. But the world is patient. Eventually the diamond travels from the mantle to the finger of the woman you love. Eventually the light from an exploded star arrives to confirm the emperor's power. It's clear now that a very old bruise can tell us how hard someone was punched. The detective solves a murder by the help of a single hair. Archeologists find a molar and build a face to fit.

More by Charles Rafferty

Insomnolence

I navigate the dark house by moving from the green star of the smoke detector to the blue star of the electric toothbrush. I am no different than Magellan or Marco Polo, I am guided by what burns. Some nights I step onto the back porch. The prow of it charges the blackness, while the stars above me sharpen and blur. Inside, I harbor the ache of what is no longer possible.

Greetings

I counted the water towers, I counted the active smokestacks.
These were the breadcrumbs I thought would lead me back. Now
I know it’s possible to drive so far we forget why we left, that the
journey continues even after the car breaks down. I used to think
I had no message, but the message is me—bloodshot and hungry,
spilled coffee down the front of my shirt. People of the future,
gather round. I have traveled through ink to greet you.

Garden State Racetrack

When I was ten, the grandstand burned to the ground in the next town over. The black smoke galloped into the air right over our house, and ash the size of silver dollars began landing on the lawn. Later, when we heard what happened, we believed it was the smoke of horses, the smoke of our drunk fathers, the smoke of the money that would not feed us. I remember that the ash dissolved when I picked it up, that I had to scrub my hands twice to get rid of it. The following morning we would ride our bikes to make certain what had burned.