by David Koehn
You can walk on it. I’d try to, to say I did.
On tonight’s walk the wind drove in a heavy load
Of skunk, we imagined a whole family sashaying
Their way among the light brown skeletons
Of the new homes, the maze of studs and joists.
We imagined the scent was like the oil of a perfume
Tipped from the nose of the big dipper onto the neighborhood.
Almost too late we noticed two stray dogs between us
And our return path, one brown, the other tan, one a lab
The other a rottweiler mix of some kind. They meant no harm
But in the dark, unexpected as aliens, they make us rethink
The difference between our idea of safety and incurvature.
The tinnitus of the house where I sometimes live, where
My friend’s joke I am known as uncle dad, the emptiness
Has the timbre of a madrigal, the movement of Reuben’s red;
Has what’s left after Judith slaying Holofernes (Holofernes
Fighting off the maid). No, Anthony I am not referencing your post
On Artemisia Gentileschi, (You know, Artemisia Gentileschi.)
But Klimt. The sound of the dog’s claws scratch the glass
Of the back door. Sleep offers a foreshortened
100 ounces of gold flake in a cereal bowl. If desire for what I
Am not, have not, was a history, a fistful of sea lettuce
Slake for a the detrital echo of the waves, would be
The origin story. My story does not resemble the world ascribed
To me: my mother? Gay. My cousins? Black. My nieces,
Taiwanese. My CEO, a woman. My orientation? Beyond
LGBTQ. My abusers, women. My daughter’s sister? Inupiaq.
My oldest son? The son of another man. My youngest son?
The only white boy in his class. Not that he would notice.
Decades ago, boarding a plane for return to Barrow, Alaska
My oldest son noticed a woman holding a bundled child
In her arms. Its pinkish, almost-blue face a smoothness
In the rubble of the blankets. He said, “Dad, why is that baby
So white?” Growing up in the bush he did not identify
With this monolithic idea of whiteness. In Inupiaq lore
There is a belief that all things sing, everything has a song.
No stone, no caribou, no door handle have the same song
In a rare moment of camaraderie one of the women in town
Gave me an Inupiaq nickname, the word for a gnat, kirgaviatchauraq.
Today, the TV tells me we have the Texan’s versus the Chiefs.
The drag of an old razor over 3-day old stubble. The cardboard
Box’s reaction to the packing tape torn off its back.
Every football game I watch taints me with the imperial.
My company will not reimburse my cell phone bill
Because the amount due is too high. Bad Brain’s
“House of Suffering” plays in the background
Of my consciousness
From earlier in the day on the drive home.
The line? “…i gotta let some joy in…” My family will tell
You, this is not because of personal use. There must be a Zen
Koan about a peach orchard, where the owner refused to pay
The laborer for picking too many peaches. Or perhaps I refer
You to, Ishiguro’s “Remains of the Day.” Easy Street
Is a real street in an imaginary town, or is it an imaginary street
In a real town? An open-side down clear glass jar wrapped
In gray paper sits atop a red brick’s vertical parallelogram
Beneath the sumi ink drawing of a chevron’s version
Of a butterfly bush. The idea of Amanda is not Amanda.
What joy we take in her amusement of her amusement
Of my friends. The Hannah Nicole winery sets aside the plow
During grape harvest season. Hands preserve the integrity
Of the grape: one must then taste the fingers of the man
Paid too little — the flavor must possess its dispossession.
This is necessary but not sufficient for a great vintage.
The indecision about what to do with old birthday cards
Lingers. The teenage daughter whines. The dog whines.
The only thing never-ending is discontent. The Texan cheerleaders
Wear white spandex shorts and blue shirts: to notice
Is to put myself on notice. I noticed your pink shirt. “Oh No””
Oh no, not another “Oh no!” Everyone here knows the sound,
The refrigerator’s tight-lipped suction uncupped from the frame,
And closed, a drawer opened, or a jug shuffled, and closed and opened
And closed again. Then the tink of the silver in the sunset
Yellow bowl. What we remember begins with cows on the ridge
Of the saddle, the edge of the ocean crashing into the continent
Just past their nose, and the queen palms
Sultry in their entertaining haberdashery, bowing
Toward Highway One and car after car of applause.
David Koehn’s first full-length manuscript, Twine, now available from Bauhan Publishing, won the 2013 May Sarton Poetry Prize. David just released Compendium (Omnidawn Publishing 2017), a collection of Donald Justice’s take on prosody. His second full-length collection, Scatterplot, is due out from Omnidawn Publishing in 2020.