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Steve Scafidi


On the Occasion of an Argument beside the River Where I Live 

Someone says we are trapped in language, and so the sun drops overhead
     through stilly pines where the river explains nothing and far away now
     several men and women on the Yangtze look up from their nets and
     point to the sky.
Bright Chinese fish, like all my words struggle in the nets of a stranger.
But because there is no surprise nor delight in the hour of owl-call and
     locusts vibrating in the walnut trees, my friend despairs. All she hears
     are owls and locusts and though two grandfathers molder in the silk of
     their caskets and she loved them, the night is just the night.
And two men flying overhead from opposite directions embrace and hover
     over the house, kicking their long spindly legs. Foolishness, I hear one
     say, foolishness.
Tonight the chatter of things is enormous and also the silence that allows
     such chatter—the empty space the tongue clicks through to make a
     word, the cataract between atoms a light thing might leap.
So, if there is nothing here, then the absence of the river makes the river
And the slow stripping of all my clothes makes the heat of this July night
     a bearable delight and a secret joy, walking down the driveway, to the
     bank of the river, over the water-worked stones, and into the current.
Laura, I don't know what you are doing but I am swimming naked in the
     Shenandoah and the sun is in China, still rising over the Yangtze.
And there is nothing for you here if two men can't fly, skimming the
     surface of the water eating horseflies and laughing; and it is the truth,
     not my truth or some private certainty I tell you.
It is midnight and I sparkle like a trout.

Something New Under the Sun

It would have to shine. And burn. And be
a sign of something infinite and turn things
and people nearby into their wilder selves
and be dangerous to the ordinary nature of
signs and glow like a tiny hole in space
to which a god presses his eye and stares.
Or her eye. Some divine impossible stretch
of the imagination where you and I are one.
It would have to be something Martin Buber
would say and, seeing it, point and rejoice.
It could be the mouth of a Coca-Cola bottle
or two snakes rolling down a mountain trail.
It would have to leap up out of the darkness
of a theater and sing the high silky operatic
note of someone in love. And run naked
slender fingers through the hair of a stranger,
or your mother or father, or grandfather, or
a grassy hill in West Virginia. It would live
on berries and moss like a deer and roam
the woods at night like the secret life of
the woods at night and when the sun rises you
could see it and think it is yours and that
would be enough and it would come to you
as these words have come to me--slowly,
tenderly, tangibly. Shy and meanderingly.

Drinking Gift Whiskey

Between white miles of snowfall where the land drifts,
gliding black water sears the local cold hump of place
that is home to worn paths in briars and my father and I
who count, in the abacus of days, another dusk as the sun
disappears by degrees behind Shorthill Mountain.
We are working through January's arctic surprise
to cross, on foot, the unfrozen waters of the brook,
and step hand in hand as grown men in love from stone
to stone--a bottle of mash sloshing unopened as a gift
for a neighbor in the wool pocket of the warm sweater
he wears, under his coat, to hold in what is precious.
And unforgivably lost here. Taking one false step
on a slick rock he takes us both into the cold Virginia
water he will die from in days. Alone, I am only writing
now to say we almost made it to the Christmas farm,
trees standing in snow like young scholars of the snow.
We almost joined them, slowly plodding across the field,
we almost made our way to the horse fence singing
its barbed melodies in the holiday wind. We, almost,
laughed our uncertain though light way into a neighbor’s
coatroom fully drunk with journey's snowy work.
Now I return every cold day to stand on the misshapen,
force-worn stones to feel the balance of who I am rock
back and forth in the wood's wind as bright, precarious
birds make their familiar notes wing from oak to ash.
And I swear to remember this is the place of my beginning,
the one permanent moment where I learned loss is
lugging your body back to the house, breathing the air
of far pines on quick wind. Father, there are not many
words I know by heart as true as that late afternoon
when you began to die in earnest, but I have learned
for us, in the cold work of rescue that fails, some.
                    -from Sparks from A Nine-Pound Hammer