Roger Mitchell

A Lull

I came out of my lighted cave,

blinking with jerry-built wisdom,

headlines eating the sidewalk, 

nothing to chew on, no sow’s ear

to fill with silken promises,

and there, like a spread blanket, day

lolled on the grass, waiting. For what,

it couldn’t say. People lay

all over it, dogs sniffed and peed. 

A man looked up at the sky 

where the trees held their annual 

gathering of leaves, beetles and birds. 

The air managed the secrets 

of the moment by keeping them, 

but too by keeping them moving. 

Some stood, struck. Others strolled

in a manner suggesting small

wavelets lapping a lakeshore beach. 

Nothing was happening, and so,

continued. Though nothing has only

the instant to move in, never 

the hour or day. Even the park

attendant sat in one of his spry 

green, collapsible skeleton chairs,

one of which an old Black lady

used as a cane as she dragged it

to a better vantage, from which

to observe, or possibly make,

a more floral arrangement

of the median amicability 

which came and went with the same smile.

Everyone seemed to have someone

or be someone themselves, but none

knew anyone in any way

that made the moment skittish        

or wish to leave. The purity

of the anonymity carried 

the float forward, but so subtly

as to make it seem it wasn’t

merely another day, merely 

a stumbling old republic

caught in the arms of forgetting.

My Bags Are Packed

Out on a visit, now it’s home.
Back to the back of the field, stones
at the edge of it, woodshed, stump,
accoutrements to a plain way
of doing things, a way I thought
might straighten the grain or loosen
the knot or lessen what was heaped
against the door, allow a flow,
follow a wing out to its edge
and over. I was right, but it still
hasn’t kept me from wanting flight
into the city, crush and release,
the other and wilder other
we are when we’re together, thrown
like an avalanche at the earth,
scavenging the day for glitter
and purpose, finding it glanced
like one building off another’s glass,
people shoving into a subway.

Prison in the Mountains

I bring a pine cone in a sack. I bring eight.
I say, let’s take a look at something simple,
something always around. Let’s start
with what’s right there, a thing on the ground.
But we’re not on the ground. We’re hardly here.
We’re where nothing grows that isn’t
put here. We’re where something took everything
away so something else could take its place.
People brought from lives so far away
the pine cone is a mystery. What is it,
someone asks, fingers already sticky
with pitch. Another says, Don’t write poems
about us, ok. We’re not here. I say,
rubbing somewhere near my elbow, ok.

Below Seventy Mile Butte
Gordon Hempton, acoustic ecologist, called
Canada’s Grasslands National Park
one of the quietest places on earth.
A breeze finds a way to get between

the new sign and signpost behind me.

All afternoon it makes a tune out of

five or six intricate, wailing tones

with long silences between them and no

need to stop. Or start, for that matter.

The sign and I are the only things here

besides the view, the grass, the miles of sky,

and all that nature hides inside them.

The square of shade I sit in lets me write,

in these words, at this pace, that everything

has its song, and sings it best alone, 

in as few words as possible, out here 

checking on the limit and its aspects, 

listening to the least amount of sound

recorded anywhere, here in a grave

the ocean made out of its last long waves.

A car creeps up behind me, stops. Then turns

and goes back, trailing its rattle of gravel.

Without Giving Its Name

Just when I think thought might avoid
attaching itself to the high south wall,
lights flicker in the tower across the road.
Who says you have to return to that blind
city, along whose streets one afternoon
you were neither the customs inspector

in red nor the man asking the avenue 

for time. These querulous buildings, people 

speaking in a way you could not make out,
about things that seemed completely
their own, were not what they seemed, but all
was aflame, and though burning, never
consumed, but climbing the flames instead,
as a snake squirms up a tree in search
of a nest, the egg in that nest, having
no sense of the bird's great breast,
of things thrust outward into the air,
of crossing the sky as though it were
nothing, an ocean surrounding the earth,
and somehow knowing without knowledge
that everything passes us at least once,
perhaps no more than a car over leaves,
but quietly and without giving its name.

Roger Mitchell, who was the subject of our Closer Look series in Innisfree 24, is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently Reason’s Dream (Dos Madres 2018). His new and selected poems, Lemon Peeled the Moment Before, was published by Ausable Press in 2008. The University of Akron Press published his two previous books, Half/Mask, in 2007 and Delicate Bait, which Charles Simic chose for the Akron Prize, in 2003. He has new and upcoming work in Tar River Poetry, Blueline, Mudlark, The Lake (U.K.), Stand (U.K.), Otoliths. Mitchell directed the Creative Writing Program at Indiana University and for a time held the Ruth Lilly Chair of Poetry. He was a 2005 Fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Currently at work on a biography of poet Jean Garrigue, he and his wife, the fiction writer Dorian Gossy, live in Jay, New York.



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