Matt Prater

The Holy Shadows

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I

A holy wood, no woman or no man,
no colonial, not even the elder shaman,
can will down palo santo medicine.

What blood root is to Tennessee, palo santo
is to Peru: the old thing, an ancient one,
a metaphorical Christ-medicine.

Each gives itself to be cut down. Each seems
dark—bleeding from the root, or boiling oil
from its sulfury tip—and yet, it is not

the dark’s dark. In each one’s time, full
of wisdom, it dies; and dying, it is consumed;
and in its sweet consumption, lives again.
II

Whenever Jesus healed, Jesus retreated
(only later, in that third go round, would he
assume his sweet place as incense of palo santo).

But away from the crowds, he sat under the moon
and prayed, or in the soft light played cards
with John and Thaddeus. Or both.

God whispered, God listened: come, self,
it’s snowing. Wrap this cloth around you
for the night; stay with me and rest

in this basement beneath the earth:
there is dark fire here, where turtles sleep
and the great bears nestle chest to chest.
III

Once, great eagles in us swooped and swirled.
We owned all ponds; who could defeat us?
We were the whir in the heart of the bower.

But in time, we grew hungry for fuller waters,
to fly upward and always away from the thrush.
So we ran away from our own dark estuaries.

Yet the running starved us all; and starved,
we slammed into the very river that’d’ve fed us
if we’d just set down the first time hunger called.

We thought that we were drowning, and we were.
We felt our eagle selves slip off of us; they did. Yet
if we could, we would explain how this was sweet.
IV

Forgive us, darkness. We have climbed
and climbed away from the specks of ash
that you have sent to bless our ceremonies.

God’s strange mistaken angel, you pull us down
and offer up a piece of coal to purify us. But we refuse,
trained and attuned to lightness more than light.

God wanted to rest, and yet we raged.
God moved in us with rage, and yet we stalled.
God played us mourning songs, and we all danced.

When it was tear time, Jesus wept; and in due season,
everything (except for us) gives up its raw cocoon
or seed of beastly flesh; and transformed in it,
V

…finds God’s darkness sweet. The butterfly,
from dying, finds God sweet. A palo santo stick’s
mutation makes it sweet. Communion wine

is sweet. Quinceanera cake is sweet. The tears
of parting, sweet. The hearth and dark bear rug
of winter, sweet. Even the harshest light,

in January, when the light is darker than darkness,
even that hard strike against the snow is sweet. Even
on the cross, in the dark hour when the Lord’s

appointed burning rent apart the curtains
from the seats of human power; even then, one imagines,
the flow of incense from God’s holy place was sweet.

D. A. Powell

Learning to Paint

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Firstly to confess lack of nearly all perspective.
Eye sees things at the ends of stalks of the mind
planted in the dull fat head and facing forward.
Sees things flatly and lacks the way round.
Consider this a lesson in how to see.
As with a poem or a play, we start with a line.
Where does it go, how does it go, that line.
Early humans had four principal colors
for drawing, but why limit.
The important thing is light. See light
make light shape light bend it into spheres
as heaven’s hot bodies form in the void
take on the light. When the eye is dull
and deadening the round world flat again,
leave it slack and one picks up on ghosts.
Draw the spirits inward and they’ll emit
a phosphorescence against the dark.
Losing sight again is part of the journey.
How else see angels. Angels are made of twilight.
There is not a war between dark and light.
They have a relationship, these angels.
And like any relationship it must be tried.

Michael Lee Phillips

At Trona

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Stand on the hill at night
And watch lights in the houses below
Suffocate from the lives that forgot to breathe in.
Walk the dark streets and find
Cars abandoned everywhere without lovers.
This is the town
Known as the last one on the map
The one you wouldn’t stop at with a name you can’t remember.
Listen: all the lives in this town have been cut out of their bodies,
And shadows filled with noise
Have moved into the empty spaces.
It’s a town that’s been burning for years, the houses turning
One by one into charcoal husks
Where the families inside live out their time in black and white
Because color is extra every month
And who can afford it? Every front yard has a stalled 4 x 4 vehicle
With potash and borax and soda ash caked
An inch thick on the windshield, and the high rise jack
And spare tire stolen before the first payment.
Blessings in this town are counted like taxes and paid every day
In righteous sequence for the right to live on the shores
Of a lake that dried up ages ago leaving a fortune
Buried in the mud for the wealthy to take.
The town is older than you, older than me, older than anyone
You know who’s living or dead, except the Fallen One,
Who founded the town in the time of his falling
And called it Heaven in honor of the town of his birth.
Don’t go there. You won’t like it.
The sun will rise every day and hunt you down one by one.

Michael Lee Phillips

George Perreault

Cirque du Soleil

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Perhaps she was too young when we took her
and now she shudders at the name, remembering
just the creepy clown and little else, ignoring
the clever stagecraft and enchantments, and this has
soured the fulsome campaign season, the endless
blaring flags, their blatant lies and innuendos.

Perhaps if we’d stayed in the country, if we’d
still kept chickens and taught her to feed them on
our leavings, pulp and peel, stems of this and that,
if she’d learned how to raid their nests, how to
hang them by their feet, apply our whetted steel.

Or pigs, could there be a better school than
the sty, their cunning, their vicious little eyes,
the way they’ll devour anything, even god forbid
you should fall inside those thick-hewn walls.

And if our pedagogy included not just the death
we rain from above, the picture box could show
our own cities, like squash too long in the field
split open with rot, neighbors maddened by starvation
subtle or brutal, hatred or boots thick to the throat.

Perhaps she’d have been prepared for this season
when stale bread and circuses could no longer appease
the pampered livestock, when parceled fodder and
even sweet silage would no longer suffice, the walls
themselves must burn, no matter the cost – let there be
fire and death, grant the porcine clown his free rein.

Jacob Paul Patchen

Shadows in the Lamplight

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The night is nothing more than
bad imagery and perspective:

Beer bottles loom like tombstones,
marking where dead worries lie.

Their shadows lean crooked and
bent by the dim lamplight. A heavy

head to a dirty pillow on a dog
haired couch; what cares have I?

And if it wasn’t so damned cliché, I’d
admit that she broke my humbled heart.

But in this moment of stale air and hatred,
the truth is easier to see; I broke it myself.

Sarah Pape

Orphans Come to Witness Our Wedding

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Vow to revise theories of filth
through each others’ thin fingers,

as the uninvited guests shake
the equation from baby’s toes.

Nineteen and twenty, not enough
to make a black knot at the neck,

or proper underwear to hold guts
apart from a vapor white chiffon.

Two girls arrive barefoot to watch
the practice walk toward water,

under wisteria, over chestnut spines.
They come back the next day clean,

hold out cellophane roses, twisted
and pinked bundles in their hands.

Eric Pankey

Souvenirs

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The sky, on permanent display,
Offers a single cloud,
A crisscross of contrails.
In scraggily
Upland trees, in grasses,
Sunlight transfigures to sugar.
A nursing mare shivers
Away flies,
shifts her weight
From one hoof to another.
Little rain puddles
Offer fragments of sky
Back to sky.
You came
To find knapped flint
And arrowheads, but watch instead
The fed foal frolic.