William Page




The Immortals

 

The immortals would never need lie down

on their backs, crossing their arms to practice

a pose of death, or to sleep away the weariness

of our ordinary lives. They would need

no anesthetic to calm them for coming pain

or to cleanse away the fear of death.

In the old South Barracks when I was fifteen

my roommate used ether swabs

in the canals of his ears, so he could hear

the flow of commands and his favorite

songs booming like drums in season.

A boy in the next room conceived the idea.

Maybe it was his foolishness born

from a teenager's half-developed brain

or heat from the blazing sun to put

my roommate under a spell.

Snickering boys held him while someone

forced a soaked cloth under his nose, and bam

the joke fell heavy as he collapsed

and we couldn't with laughter or slaps

across his face or a towel wet

and icy bring him back.

A little death for a military man

was understandable, but we were

only boys in blue uniforms

waiting for his sleep to evaporate

like an anesthetic, to send him back

from a mirthful trick closing in like night,

his breathing becoming limp and faint.

Hauling him by arms and legs we

hurried under his weight.

Picture him spread eagle and cold,

a nurse recording with a shaking hand

his time of death,

had he not burst back to life in our arms,

reviving the color in our faces, that had turned

pale as the bone under our skin,

as we for a moment had forgotten

to feel immortal.

 

 

In this Maybe Best of All Possible Worlds

                          

The bomb has bloomed its gray cloud to change                   

an unchangeable world. And the War of Ice

has begun with harsh stares and

the wearing of crew cuts and ushankas, but we

are civil and alive and hale as wild roses

blooming along the road, displaying

their pink cheeks to us, the semi-innocent,                                       

riding down a tarred line of time. We sit,

shadowed in the painted cavern of this Ford.

 

If I say we're six, almost holy, crammed

into this blunt sedan, would you believe? Or

can you accept, if I swear to the fading blue heavens,

we're one more than Creation's days?

On the sprung and knobby front seat, Nathan sits   

hovering happily in our cramped summer's singing.                          

We're all suspended by the moon's yellow light

seeping in laughing, half-lowered windows,

reflecting our greed for being.

 

It's an early Friday evening, wrecking itself

into the calendar's oblivion; so we must drink

to honor time, speak in racing tongues,        

trying hard to hold together, to keep moving                        

toward the gift we don't know we have.

Traveling at the speed of hope, we pass ourselves;            

and hanging on the faint horizon, before us in a beam

of our low lights, we seem to see, what cannot be,

but should be missed by swerving.

 

Then a bursting dust rolls upon us

like the shovel-battered grave's, and we

blinking at the star-filling heavens

are cast out into a churned meadow, our

battered bodies bleeding our bliss, and Nathan,

before he can know the odds of loss,

is wholly missing from the floor of pain,

the roof of suffering. Perhaps his being

an uneven number has undone him or he's lost

because the road rolled like a die over the hill.

 

But forget chance or the laws of nature

that let a rose hold its tongue all winter, hardening

its thorns, sweetening its breath. After all these years,

though I cannot blow the dust from the mouths of the dead

to understand their lyrics, in this maybe best of all

possible worlds, I can hear the stones singing to the wind.

I can restore Nathan's breathing, let him ride

again, keep him sixteen and singing.

 

 

Storms

 

I love storms. Wading through flooded fields

is my favorite pastime. Sometimes I carry a loaf

of bread and sharp cheese in my pocket

in case clouds shaped like ravens fly down

to parched fields where I kneel to smell the earth

if only to know which direction I'm going.

When the sky first filters from sunset to gray

it's time for me to wring the wind from my fingers

until I hear thunder shouting my name

I can make out with the help of the wavering

leaves of elms so susceptible to blight. Disease

is the essence of our lives when we least expect it.

It begins as a suspicion racing through tunnels,

then flooding nerves speckled with flashes.

The story of our health is a revelation

of our standing in doorways or on hilltops

or deep in valleys with grass bristling

like the fur of an angry bear or tuft

on an eagle's head. Whatever we may say

of storms we may say of ourselves.

 

 

Thus Spoke the River

 

I am moving water this man shattered like glass

flaying with a barbed catfish, its blunt face

the gray of mud. I can tell you how

the sun flickered through a birch canopy,

roots hugging the bank and waves leaping

as he plunged, both fists feeling for a fish

waist deep in my watery torrent.

I can say he shook the forest with his rifle

to pierce the head of a squirrel with white nose

and furred mouth that could not protest its death

prepared for a skillet with reverence of lard.

Rivers have their own notion of what makes a hero.

The pious may say it is to tell the truth and never

curse or complain. This man eating his breakfast

taken from fields would fit that claim,

though modesty would forbid his remarking

upon his own merits of which there are fathoms.

Honor can smell of animal pelts draped over a wire.

It is uncertain if the huntsman loves his kill,

but the virtuous hunter is like a wild animal, without hate.

He may leave his doors unlocked and his battered truck

at the disposal of a neighbor or even a stranger.

He will champion men, and women, over machines

and animals domestic or feral. He may be faithful       

to a religion shooting roots deep into earth. He may

bind wounds with scriptures from a black tome

fierce as teeth. If such a man is beset by a cancer,

he will accept it as he does a taste of pork or fowl,

for a good man is afraid of neither life nor death.

I tell you this as a river, feeling his body

boldly in a sloshing against banks, we are one in nature

where a man stands shouting and another sits silently

in early hours of morning before the sun

has mastered the world, when one can learn 

much from condensation on a stone.

 

 

The Voice of a Friend as from the Sky

 

The sound of his death was of dust collapsing

and the treble of rain falling on streets.

 

We had ridden often past the blackness of night,

past the silver streak the moon left on the road's shoulder.

 

The gears of morning turned, and the sharp pawls of evening

slid into their remembered slots.

 

I've heard that students of medicine strip cadavers' torsos of bones

and fold them like freshly laundered shirts.

 

But the fabric of eternal questions is harder than bone

and can never be folded or torn.

 

Beyond the flowering pear tree wind billows into a bundle

of words, and after its delivery is gone.

 

Rain falls equally on fallow fields and on the roof

of a small dog's house, where it stops barking to listen.

 

As the dynasty of days and sovereignty of years

clatter on, I hear

 

a voice come back as from the sky, skittering across a lake

into a field humming with bees.




William Page's poetry has appeared widely in such journals as The Southern Review, The North American Review, Southwest Review, Nimrod, Wisconsin Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Kansas Quarterly, The Literary Review, Mississippi Review, Cimarron Review, The Chariton Review, Southern Poetry Review, South Carolina Review, Tar River Poetry, Ploughshares, The Pedestal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and The Innisfree Poetry Journal, and in a number of anthologies. His third collection of poems, Bodies Not Our Own, received a Walter R. Smith Distinguished Book Award. His collection William Page Greatest Hits 1970-2000 was published by Pudding House Publications. He is Founding Editor of The Pinch and a retired professor of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Memphis.









                                    

 

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