‘Glaciers’ and other poems
By: John Kucera
The shovel, striking a root, thunked
All the way down to my moist heart.
An acolyte, I knelt to bury the plant to
Blame me for trusting coincidence
More than fate.
Hold me responsible for rose thorns.
The sloping yard hoards
The memory of past glaciers.
Have I searched within for the
Gravitational field that holds me here?
Weeds take over the neglected bed
next to the house.
Sharing the sun with stray
Snapdragons and tomatoes.
That will forget their names by August.
If there’s a faint, high-pitched whistle
Like a bird stuck in the night,
It could be the call of my own breath.
I never had to beg
For a pet. The horses just
Familiar as milkweed
Seeds. My mother
Had a college degree and my father
Thought that should make
Us all as angry as he was,
Poor delicate out of control
Tyrant with his fists
Clenched tight. We lived
So easily then but no one
Knew it, the 1980s full
Of fear as any decade.
I knew thorns
And barn smell, freedom
On bike and horseback
And sneakered foot,
Place as solid as ice
In the water buckets come
Winter. And then they sold
The horses—I had not known
You could sell family—
And we moved to town.
That must be when I stopped
Believing there was a such thing as forever.
She only opens her door to the winds who liberate the dead pinned to her mirror
To bury them higher up in a hole in the air.
The cliff, she says, is crumbling like a poor man’s bread and it’s not those taciturn
Oaks which will save the landscape’s reputation
She also says that she only has to wait for the fifth season for her dead to come
Back to her honeyed tears on the apple-tree’s cheeks
They’ll straddle the fog
Mount the dogs
Soil the hallway
To express their disapproval
Questioning the calends complicates the route of the sun lodged in her chicken house
Since the hens began laying their eggs in the river
Curses on thresholds that don’t know how to gather footsteps she repeats until
It intoxicates her
Curses on hands that turn bread into grief
Curses on water which becomes frost when you drink it
Her long cohabitation with the mountain taught her that birds migrate at night so
That they won’t know the road is long.
The memorial to the lost memorial
could be a child’s tug, a pallor, a pall,
a locomotive, its banner of exhaust,
the spit of steam as the iron comes to rest.
What you do not know you know can break
a spine or set ablaze a stack of books.
Or harbor the tragedy yet to happen.
Rain falls into a chronicle we call rain,
and what abstracted politician can tell
the water from the word, the arrival
of spring from the crackle of erasure.
What downpour shapes a monument of tears.
These woods are full of statues if you listen.
I have heard the cries of lost children
float through the halls, and a hush at the end
gave each a stone to lay against a stone.
I saw once, in a dark museum, a small
striped jacket, a signet of the Holocaust,
pinned to a cloth. I swore to remember.
We all did. But whom? A friend, a number,
our own child inside the coat. The cap
beside it, no larger than a bowl of soup.
I swore again to recall the nameless
and left my bones behind me in the rain.
Lost to Pain
Long ago, when I was wordless and alone, what I did know of the face I held to the mirror of my mother, how space became a feature, a form, an artifice between us.
Even now as I remember the face lost to pain, then madness, then painlessness to fire
I see the ghost I made and unmade like a bed. I hear her in the kitchen, sleepless, when I wake at night and words are far away.
And when they come, if not the words then voices, glances, cries. I call them hers. The ones she’s lost to pain, then madness. I call
and because dawn burns for those it mourns and in returning turns away, I enter a gallery of animate objects
where everything is dead and moving. The doll with its string. The mechanical arm. The beaded curtain.
They are artifacts of what is here and not quite here, not quite adventure or farewell, words bereft of animals to speak them.
The primordial mass cultured with light.
The slightest seizure more terrible than stillness. I call and I enter the space with two lone heads—the first with its bright complexion: the other bluish gray—and although bound together by their hair, they do not face each other and when they move, the bright one says yes. The dark one says no and the theater is cold as x-rays are and absurd French movies, the kind my mother hated like madness and pain.
Like all who live and do not live, who unearth a self so abstract the person disappears, these abject gestures toward a deeper recognition are stilted, callous, masked as shamans who, as beasts, are never original but ancestral beyond words. I talk to my mother still.
And what she says lives in the ways the talking heads and shamans never do. I loved her. And thus the phantom space between us
where words crossed in tiny boats with pieces of spirits who stepped ashore. In the gallery of animate objects, I hear the ocean in the breathing machine, the mother’s inconsolable refusals
in the blue gray of can’t and no. I hear the horrors of her late age in the jaw,
in raw shock and provocation, the ah they open and in the phantom speech she gave, before she knew I loved her, when I was wordless and alone.
John Kucera was educated at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in New Reader Magazine, The Sandy River Review, Connections Magazine and Friends Journal. He lives in Arizona, where he writes and teaches.