To wear one of the red runner-up ribbons,
The fairness—running up to one and one the other,
Like kites or flags those ribbons,
And with your talented thumbs that once made waves crash
along the sides of pinch pots,
Subside in a mother’s day ashtray left on the drying shelf,
That shot the loops at others at your table
Making potholders on their looms,
That braided an inchworm at day camp instead of a lanyard—
All thumbs you gave the world such beads of Radio Shack
solder that dripped like quicksilver
That splashed into hammered foil charms, earrings, bangles
when they cooled—
To have a booth at this fair and buy nothing,
To sit on your bar-height director’s chair,
Enjoy all the interest expended and pretend it back to the
pleasure of your lemonade stand,
That day when no one bought any,
When you poured the pitcher in the grass and went back to
Without any wares,
Waiting for the thrill to be stolen.
The Child River (with Monkey Burn)
A walking stick, which taps the green footbridge, testing the first few boards, following a few bars of the brown notation all through the woods—the worried lunch bag paper of dead beech leaves, which hang on through the winter, and they provide the only rustle, the only greenery, so to speak, or where the color peeled off the picture, such that whatever is seen here is not painted with good linseed oil that lasts, or on cloth with a tight weave, more at kraft paper and half-dry finger paints, which are so thick and strong at first, that would resist and sometimes resist more than a little. There was some evidence for this, in the way her slim wrist gave across from me at the art table, as though from nowhere, as though her hand had been taken by a ghost that bled in those few colors. And suddenly I realize I have been twisting the wood rail of the bridge in two different directions, while thinking the water would be the blue, the banks the green, the stick trees the brown, and the gray dots for the stones or stations you must climb upstream, to where a swale meets it, a meadow of mostly wild strawberry. The earth still sparkles wet here, wherever prints fill with what will be a river eventually, the undertow, which nurses here, sucking on the deer’s hooves, the devil’s cattle.
During the night the devil’s cattle enter the backyard,
Sire and harem,
And when they come up to the back porch,
The scare light flashes at their boldness,
On covers off as you nurse a hangnail,
Sleeplessly picturing the slim brown shanks,
How they buckle under a great white chest,
How shadows project across the grass and fallen leaves,
How they kneel before him in his church,
Every head—and out of nowhere a leg covers yours,
Thrown and unshaved,
Running in a dream or falling,
Her stubble scratching your skin as she joins the herd.
A fresh mole tunnel has disturbed the grass. So the earth opens its veins to the sky and where the freemasons would think to pour forth, with their legions, their little martial poses and airs as red as the redcoats I would arrange around my bed swords high and muskets trained only to be smote with my pillow still wet with my face and tears. Time out!
I have a garden hoe now. I have a trap that I could see duct-taped to a broomstick and so brandish the double trident of some final and human dare. But the countermining along the north wall and the children’s bedrooms, which we like to think of as empty “guest rooms,” where all the radiators are closed to save on the heat, has surfaced into the pine bark bed and felled my forest of Echinacea, their stalks leaning this way and that, the purple pompoms and golden eyes that would delight my day like so many false buttons running up and down a birthday clown’s smock.
So I just walk around the house in a mope and tug at the curtains, the chinks in their material, the way I might have wanted that old clown to twist for me yet another deer, another dachshund, or my favorite, the little balloon sword. I named it Cling-clang and burst in front of the other children and parents, squeezing the blade up from the bottom, and on purpose.
So I am miserable in your eyes that travel from this page to the next, feather mites on the blackbird’s wing, who watch like gods flying, looking for some new and blacker forest.
The cherry ones are so close to medicine.
They have the same juju as Smith Bros., Luden’s,
Just pectin and not even a saccharide shy.
They click against your teeth like a die,
A Magic 8 Ball throwing its voice,
Where you won’t let anyone read what it says, and they tumble too,
Circling back to the same place in the black water of your mouth.
You can feel the name of their ship repeatedly,
As each melts, and always the same ship, too,
As each one goes back and forth,
Slow as a balance bubble,
Almost a carnelian ring on your tongue,
A charm overpolished until the flavor,
The red is within a hair,
Until it breaks.
An abandoned Rexall, OTR, Cincinnati
A watercolor of rain and soot lends a kind of salt-and-pepper frost such that you could undress behind a sheet, the chalk streaks of the pigeon droppings a little fake snow reminiscent of a festive season. The roost is the empty box from which a steel shutter unrolled. The scrollwork must be imagined now.
Layers of diesel wax, darker than any that empurpled the thighs of Adam, have blown from the nearby bus stop. The needle and drum of the graph box, in a discreet corner of the gallery, would yield a report to rival Trinity.
What truly fools the eye are Anonimo’s brushstrokes in flour paste. They whorl albescently in the décollage of torn posters and screenprints for the Meanest Man with enough to pound the message home: l’art brut—
White words, docent, as white as your finger tip looks being pressed bloodless for a moment from locking the doors, at which you marvel, and from pointing out further details too on your rolled up window.
The tatters are the media, the spume on which sails the Floating World and the cow’s breath brushed in the primitive tradition. In the sculpture room beyond, out on the floor devoid of any fixtures save one, is a lone wire tree, the branches flowering with the nose hooks of vanished readers in various strengths.
Poems by Franz Werfel (1890-1945) as translated by James Reidel:
Note: Carl Orff set this poem to music in 1920.
Franz Viktor Werfel (10 September 1890 – 26 August 1945) was an Austrian-Bohemian novelist, playwright, and poet whose career spanned World War I, the Interwar period, and World War II. He is primarily known as the author of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933, English tr. 1934, 2012), a novel based on events that took place during the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and The Song of Bernadette (1941), a novel about the life and visions of the French Catholic saint Bernadette Soubirous, which was made into a Hollywood film of the same name. – Wikipedia
James Reidel is the author of the poetry collections Jim’s Book (Black Lawrence Press, 2013) and My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg (Black Lawrence Press, 2006). He wrote the definitive and only biography on Weldon Kees,Vanished Act: The Life and Work of Weldon Kees(University of Nebraska Press, 2003), and edited 3 Entertertainments (Knives Forks Spoons Press, 2012), which features three of Kees’s works for film and television.
Reidel received a National Endowment for the Arts translation fellowship in 2009. In 2013 he was a resident poet at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut. Reidel’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, The New Criterion, The Adirondack Review, DMQ Review, and the inaugural issue of (ĕm). Reidel’s translations of Franz Werfel’sThe Forty Days of Musa Dagh and Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand were published by Godine in 2012. His translations of Thomas Bernhard’s In Horas Mortis and Under the Iron of the Moon were published as a single volume by Princeton University Press in 2006. Reidel lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. – Poetry Foundation