D. Nurkse

The Leash

Once I thought the trees were just dapple and sway.
Then I discovered: a stream of atoms enters my eyes
with all the musk, funk, and glint of the forest.       
It’s my mind that fits them in pigeonholes: birch, ash.

Once I knew I would die. I still think so.

We go for long walks, the dog and I, in the foothills
of Mount Abraham. He’ll guard me. But there’s no enemy.
He’ll hunt for my sake. But the squirrels are devilish.
Their art is to freeze and let desire over-reach.

As for the deer: haunches disproportionately powerful,
they climb into the sky, panicked but also sauntering.
Consider the wild turkey: it rattles on stunted wings
to perch nine feet up, though its spurs could rake us.
Badgers go to earth baring yellow teeth. A fox melts.

We find ourselves lost among branches without names, radiant
as if chiseled from the light of the eye, identical
but not quite, like synapses, trunks that mimic         
and smother each other so efficiently there’s a gap
the exact shape of a body—there the dog materializes,
leash dangling, determined to be happy, therefore ecstatic,
frisking gimpily, ignoring every command except Biscuit.
                         In a cloud above Canada
the hawk holds us in eyes bigger than his brain.
He can see a dangling button a mile away, and tilts us
in his scale: prey, predator? Die, or be reborn as sunlight?

In the New Year

The child goes from tap to lamp to stove
murmuring hot, hot. I say, No! Danger.

She has created an absolute that exists
in no one thing and lasts forever.
Danger. There’s no way home.

At midnight she wakes me crying.
I prise myself from the quilt
and explain: dream, dream.

It’s the past. I don’t know it.
Yet I enter it and hold her.
I sense her trembling diminish.

Snow makes our city silent.

I carry her to the sill and show her
emptiness, the oblique lamp.  

Division Street, Dewey Square, Delancey,
hooded DeSoto, blouse frozen on a line.

A few lost revelers, still in masks,
stumble and hold hands.

Saint Anthony is about to strike.
Flurries dim the steeple clock.
The minute hand hides the hour,
outlined in weak red lights
that make the night sky huge.

The Marriage at Otter Creek

A jet fighter circled the sky,
commanded by two young pilots.
Each had a Glock and headphones.
A switch on the controls was locked.

If both heard the order
clearly and indubitably,
they would join hands,
turn the key together,
and the code would launch.

But if one made an attempt
without the other’s consent,
he would be shot and the plane return
to its camouflaged runway.

Surely they loved each other
at those inhuman velocities.

Surely they heard the prompt
constantly, in the pulse
and the whine of turbines,
and glanced at each other’s eyes.

The earth below them
must have looked whorled,
wrinkled and faintly pompous
like an old man’s sex.

Sometimes after love
we imagined the signal
being transmitted through us.

In breathless silence
we watched rafts of light
fold into the corners of the ceiling.

When we woke to dawn light
we could see the warped molding,                   
roller sheen, the painter’s mistakes.

We rented a little house
in Damariscotta, by Middle Branch,
a few blocks from the fat slow river.

We checked out books
from the small brick library
that gleamed like a penny—                 

Durutti, Darwin, Jakob Boehme—
we returned them on the due day
but a year late.

To plan a picnic was a betrayal.
We wrapped brie in wax paper
and Dixie cups in foil
but never mentioned next Sunday.

The future was a hallucination,
a lake in the road.

We watched the hand writing.
We watched each other in bed
always with someone invisible
who called the name of happiness.

We were helpless before ourselves
as before an image on water
a touch can erase.

We turned each other into demons
to pass time, especially the long hour
between two and three, equally far           
from lunch and supper.

We loved this world and proved it
by sulking, dreaming of suicide as of sex.

We told each other slightly altered versions
of the melting polar caps—
why did we need to change the details
almost imperceptibly, speeding up
the floods by a few decades—
in that margin we had our white fence
with one slat missing, swing, and dappled yard.

We read out extinctions
to terrorize each other:
lemur, sloth, meerkat,     
scraps of fur with two sets of names,
Latin and Anglo Saxon, bashful
in their captioned pictures,
their gaze cloudy with a strange silt
—perhaps grit on the lens?                        
At twilight we put the book down                                
but when we looked up
it was still twilight:

a white line divided the sky.              

D. Nurkse’s eleventh book of poetry, Love in the Last Days,  a verse re-telling of the Tristan and Iseult legend, will be published by Knopf this September. He’s the recipient of a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best poetry book published in the UK.



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