Spring 2014, Volume 16

Poetry by Ralph Black


                    “a poem is a hall where faces dissolve”
                    —Adam Zagajewski, from “Impossible”

Some things I remember, some I invent.
Some things I remember inventing,
some I invent so I can remember
remembering—a new thing
dropped behind me as I go, a branch tip
to snag the blown scarf of my gaze
when it drifts that way.

As now, in the front seat of my father’s Toyota
parked by the dogwood near the fence, my father’s hand
stilling me as the opening strophes of
Schubert’s Trout stream from the tinny radio.

Or now, mouthing the word "yum"
after kissing the red haired girl in the tweed cap
on the porch of the river-roaded house in Oregon,
a word I hoped might make the kiss linger
like an ember or dust mote on my tongue.

Or even, slipping two fingers under
the umbilicus that looped my newly-born
daughter’s neck, her head nested in my hand,
the two of us breathing hungrily
as birds—
              though writing it, I know
the fingers that unlooped that cord
weren’t mine, but the doctor’s, who moved through
that iced instant with a dancer’s grace,
while I stood by the bed of the red-haired mother,
locked in the low medicinal light
of the birthing room, thinking of breath.

Some memories you simply
blow the dust from, like a paperweight on a desk,
and some, like Michelangelo’s Prisoners, must be freed
from the dense medium of their making—
chip by chiseled chip.

                              As now,
lying in my bed in the bedroom
of the house in Baltimore
          (is it morning or night?)
and through the open window
          (making it summer or early fall)
comes the clatter-clomp of horse and wagon
          (in Baltimore? in ‘65?)
and a man’s rich tenor sails through the alley
          (I doubt there was an alley),
singing        —it was singing!—
          blueberries, blackberries, raspberries

the first stroke of each dactylic berry
growing in duration and pitch:


incanting in the halflight of dusk or dawn,
in the middle-light of sleep or memory,
his sweet enduring wares, and what was
(I’m sure of it) the first poem I ever heard.


I threw a star at a wish and a stone at a star.
It was thick-aired summer—nothing
made any more sense than this.

Things went up as they will when thrown,
caught for a moment and held
in the charcoal scrim just above tree line,
where bats sometimes tumble after echoed flecks.

Truth is, I can’t juggle more than one
or two items at a go—tennis balls, cherry tomatoes—
and the six year old kids in the neighborhood
go loopy with delight.

But toss in a bee hive, a flower pot,
a fire truck’s strafing light, or the clapper
from a monastery bell, and I’m a tangle of flailing arms,
a scarecrow swatting away ornery birds.

Nothing happened when the three stray planets
dropped back to the grass, the star
landing on a stem of clover, the stone on a stone,
the wish wishing itself a drop of water.

I stood two-legged in the yard, a one-ring, one-man circus,
tussled by the strictures of gravity.

A few birds gabbled in the starched trees by the porch.
I heard their applause. I knew whose name they called.

No one visible bothered to take a bow.




BIO: Ralph Black’s poems have appeared in West Branch, The Georgia and Gettysburg Reviews, Poetry Ireland Review, and Tar River Poetry.  He is the recipient of the Anne Halley Poetry Prize from The Massachusetts Review.  His first book, Turning Over the Earth, was published by Milkweed Editions. He also has a chapbook called The Apple Psalms, from Paper Lantern Press. He teaches at SUNY Brockport, in Upstate New, where he  is a Director of the Brockport Writers Forum.