Requiem for the Kuskokwim
It is cold and windows rattle with razors and hooks.
Dread permeates light moments like a mean dog tied to a stove.
Foreign to the territories, with tendered immunity,
you walked through wild like a wraith.
Jingling coins, coining jingles,
sure to find another word for snow.
Happy, you floundered there, netted and boned.
Fuel oil barrels gleam old eyes;
willow thickets harbor generous shadows.
Chimneys bluff scouring fumes and
walls bear the stain of six generations.
The work is serious; memory’s wash, terminal.
Optimism and cheer are required.
You go back because you were happy,
shushing secrets in totes.
Your bones clatter tunefully,
coins hemmed in skirts.
Glacial silt, dust to grit, stain to half;
this is the trial you were waiting for.
Ankles tinkle songs of ice while dogs of doom
break loose to rut in steaming pairs.
Off skies hum something low and you
heard your name on the radio.
Chant your everlasting, cheeks slick
with oil. Ears own judgment, scorn.
Shaking at the stove, naked from a dream,
trapped by institutions of the terrible,
justice begs, “Father.”
This is the trial you were waiting for.
Drag your once and gravid body, bending
brush to fire. Sink in damp persuasion.
Hand it to the dark and darling drums.
Out of Place in Seattle
A lively understandable spirit once entertained you. It will come again.
Be still. Wait.
We don’t speak of stones or the sea in Western Washington. We
use other words in place of these, found out in your poetry.
That’s how I knew you weren’t from here.
We don’t talk the way you do.
It’s an inclination to eschew words like eschew
because you sound too
big for your britches
like I was when I was
little in Seattle
Crying though the diamond links
crushed by a congress of friends
with you locked up in the violent ward
two Northeast blocks away.
You came here from someplace else
to put things differently.
Poetry’s province is elsewhere,
a stone tossed up from the sea,
embedded in the poet’s shoe
one blink from catastrophe.
A child kneels at the lip of a wave.
She stretches out her hand to reach for something shiny.
You know what she wants, drawing under weighty water.
Walk weary to the beachhead waiting ’till she follows.
We walk the weary beaches ‘til clamshells
leave half-moons in ours soles. Then you say,
Stop now, Sandy.
You have more than you can use.
Let’s go home.
The sun goes down on Puget Sound. The sea
is far from here in Saginaw. You still
don’t talk like me.
Toward a Unified Theory
(Or Don’t Read this Poem in Bethel, You Idiot)
I have not seen much lately.
No proof of God.
No Jungian synchronicity.
No personal or global miracles have made my day.
I have become un-Godly.
I am going it alone.
Moments ago I wrote the word convince.
Just then Jeff Corwin with his albino Anaconda on TV
said “convince” in a mysterious duet of print and spoken word
I know this happens to everyone all the time but what are the odds?
Proof of God?
Frankly I wish it would not happen.
What good does it do?
Who does it, well, convince?
Is it God breaking through in a waste of Holy effort
A comedic wink to say, Standing by, doing nothing?
It’s more like a malfunction in the unifying fabric.
Small repair persons – smaller than cells –
more like quarks
are dispatched to cement the rift.
Damn. There it goes again. Like a broken record.
Knock it off.
Once, on an Underwood portable, I typed
“It’s all done with mirrors.”
At that moment the Top 40 DJ said
“It’s all done with mirrors.”
Do you suppose it is?
Word reflecting word.
Once, at midnight, you and I lay down
on the grass at Ballard First Lutheran
to ponder stars and principles.
Desperate, I put out a fleece.
I felt foolish and a little lonely.
I have given God credit for coincidence.
Just for the company.
Poet and essayist, Sandra Kleven, is the editor of Cirque, a literary journal. Originally, from the state of Washington, she has spent much of the last 30 years working in Alaska’s village communities. Her work has appeared in AQR, Oklahoma Review, and numerous other publications. In 2012, two of her poems were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Kleven has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska/Anchorage. Her first collection, Defiance Street: Poems and Other Writing is due out this year.