DREAM LANDSCAPE WITH THE OLD BRICKYARD ROAD CREEK AND BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON
I have returned to the creek, to the current-scalloped sand,
The mud bank that gives and gives against onrush and backwash,
To the gust-cobbled surface sun-flecked with amber, the sky
As bright as icemelt, or blue, in deep shade, or buttermilk,
At times, more depth than surface, black as charred fircones, or rain,
Rain at night and a slide guitar troubling an old hymn
That I have no voice to sing, but still discern from the hush
Of water oaks and willows, the full reservoir of wind,
The nighthawk and the field mouse, a voice calling from the porch,
And having returned to the creek, to these oxbow shallows,
I wait, hell-bent, as one waits for Judgment Day, knowing
With one or two steps, he can ford the depth and distance home.
THE PHRASE OF THINE ACTIONS
What I know of the sacred is a gloss,
Words that will not translate into flesh.
The bread he broke is not his broken body,
But is a vernacular and homely trope.
A story retold is not the story told,
Yet his is the story I tell myself
No amount of retelling resolves.
I expected the audacity of bliss,
But was given the figures of sacrament,
The heavy curtain of allegories,
Words and acts that articulate his absence.
It is late summer, just before the harvest.
The gate--a trellis really for vines--is closed.
The way through covered with a floury dust.
What is dust that he would think to reshape it?
gouache; 29" x 27"; 1993
more work by Aimee Jackson
SAVANT OF BIRDCALLS
The blue herons' do-si-do,
The barn swallow's wheel, the hawk's
Fell swoop, the kingfisher's fall:
Who but me taught them to dance?
From my roost, I still dictate
The show of the peacock's fan--
A gaudy display unfurled
Infrequently with a squawk.
I taunt the owl with my hoot
And shake the crows from the trees.
I, the savant of birdcalls,
Out-mimic the mockingbird.
The cuckoo's wooden coo-coo,
The osprey's exhausted screech
And the cardinal's interval
Are, in my throat, native sound.
Call me duck, dodo, or dove,
Plagiarist or perjurer.
I don't as the bobwhite does,
Question the truth of my name.
Beneath the violet embellishment of trellised wisteria,
Day ends with the flash of a startled cardinal.
Isn't the world known by its conclusions? I ask you;
But you, standing in an alcove of late shade,
A figure incandescent, bright as the rosemary,
Will not break from the shadow and answer.
SEE THAT MY GRAVE IS SWEPT CLEAN
Words are but an entrance, a door cut deep into cold clay.
I say, A late sky flagged with jade; ice of the pear blossoms.
I say, A thrush of cinnabar in the lily's throat.
Behind each assertion, each gambit, I could place a question mark.
Behind each question, a residue of longing, half-assuaged,
An argument of brine-edged light the moon, your stand-in, doles out,
Grain by grain. Behind each question, a hook blackened with rust.
Begin with a clay bank, a chill wind's insufflation.
Begin with thumbflint, a fever, some sticks to fire the kiln.
Are words but an entrance? Words are but an entrance.
Eric Pankey was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1959 and received his BA from the University of Missouri at Columbia and his MFA from the University of Iowa. His first collection of poems, For the New Year, was selected as the winner of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and published by Atheneum in 1984. In 1988, Atheneum published his second collection, Heartwood, which was reissued by Orchises Press in 1998. His next three books were published by Alfred A. Knopf: Apochrypha in 1991, The Late Romances in 1997, and Cenotaph in 2000. His work has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. He is professor of English at George Mason University.
Published in Volume 3, Number 3, Summer 2002.