Today's poem is by Richard Jackson


I could feel a few dying stars hovering over my shoulder
but that wasn't it. Not the fact that there are so few
sunspots anymore, and therefore fewer Northern Lights.
Not the problem of the thinning arctic ice. And yet weren't they
all connected somehow? Weren't they symptoms of something
I couldn't see. How many people saw the naked man fleeing
Christ's betrayal in Gethsemene? Fish nibble at the moon's
reflection. Camels have two eyelids, one transparent,
so they can see in sandstorms. We see only what we want
to see, only a fraction of what this stone has seen in a few
billion years. Now the stone wants to be an apple. The night
splinters. The sky trembles piteously. The real world appears
in the reflection of the soldier's face on a green radar screen.
Maybe there are some things we are not supposed to see.
The town beneath the lake. The cells that will divide mercilessly
in a few decades. I have been looking at Chagall for whom
every object is transparent. He thought that some of his dreams
were dreamt in other people's minds. That's why his images
echo each other from distant points on the canvas. Everything
we see is a metaphor for what we don't see. Everything we do is
a metaphor for what we don't do. If you don't finish this poem
it won't exist. Neither will I. Where do we come from when
we come to ourselves? There's a common thread that hasn't
been established yet. Cendrars said that Chagall painted a church
with a church, a cow with a cow. He painted his own love, Bella,
floating up to kiss him. A hawk's flight unravels the thread we never
knew was there. There's a smell of smoke smudging through
the trees, but no fire. These words migrate towards invisible
meanings. It would be hard to predict what follows.
Each hour seems ready to kidnap the next for ransom.
How many orphans blindly follow some warlord around
the streets of Mogadishu with an AK-47 and sack of grenades?
This is not the symbol or allegory you might take it for.
Behind them, if you look carefully, there's a mother fleeing
her burning house with a wheel barrow full of children.
She seems to gaze from the beginning of time. The day turns
into ash. The evening is exhausted. It lies like a shed snakeskin.
It is only slowly now that the poem gathers itself around
these unexpected events. In Chagall's Poet Reclining
the pastoral world behind him is both dreamt and real.
He seems to lie in front of, not in the picture. You can't see
who is in the building or in the woods. You have to look for
what is out of place. We need, like Blake, to look through
and not with the eye. The paths from here spread out like
cracks in ice. The skaters trace patterns you can only see
from above. How am I going to see my way clear of all this?
Everything I say brings its endless army of associations.
In another poem the woman would be pushing a shopping cart.
We can hope for another scene to emerge out of the shadows.
There's nothing we can do about the guns or the warlords.
It will have to show a way that looks like truth, but
it will have to show it through these broken windows.
You have to see it to believe it, but you'll never see it coming.

Copyright © 2011 Richard Jackson All rights reserved
from Asheville Poetry Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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