Issue 16: Peter Mishler

L I T T L E  T O M  D A C R E  I N  H E A V E N

And through my tears

in the hereafter

I see my tears received below

on the arched back

of a chief of staff

dragging his skiff behind him

and wandering

the incorporated limits

in his suit the color

of underground lakes.

Lo to feel as indifferent now

as the candy dispenser,

the unlit carport,

the blue flag sunk

in front of my old

elementary school,

but here too

I can touch my heart

to a knotted tree

and its murmuring

can be heard in the leaves

of an office plant

misted down on earth

by a man committing

lines of love to memory

in his green security jacket.

Child I was

who once sought guidance

at the whirlpool,

the colored milk

still in my bowl,

who was lifted

for inspection by command,

and when I was held

in the doctor’s arms

his ears were warm with blood

and I shielded my mouth

with a tear-shaped mint,

a spell to halt

the interrogating lamp

as he spun it

toward my face.

It was well-covering time.

We children were served

our salad greens

in centurion’s helmets

never to be worn again.

And the widow Bilgewater

was taking down our names

while we gathered and carried

the covering-sticks,

her eyes as blank

as the backside

of the board of health

and the dark pools of rain

that gathered there,

and in them I saw:

              the sleepers covering the hills with their bodies

              a whalebone wrested from the tabernacle by thieves

              a furniture outlet looted clean

              a woodsman glancing over his shoulder

              as he bit into a greasy heart

              the piles of ash in the wilderness

              the stinking ligatures on the helmsman’s neck

              a sea full of in-flight magazines

              a band of actuaries discarding their ties

              to bark at the brown waterstain of the moon

until the mesh hood

was pulled down

over my naked head

and I woke up here.

H E A D  I N  T H E  O R C H A R D

Why the hangman spared me I do not  know.

He stood above me on the overpass

without a word, his eyes downcast and clear,

his wreath of sawgrass hung around his neck.

This in the time of the orchard full of fruit.

I looked at him, a worm within my feasting,

squinting through the scouring light

and while we did not break our stares

my blind hand shook behind me as I searched

my satchel for the axe. I freed its knot

and smelled the outbreath of the sap

and sunlight on the blade within

then cinched the cord again, that scent

now wasted on the world. I spared him too.

Half my life I’d spent sleeping in the sun,

the other under the orchard’s starlight

the roseate sun to seek. Here is the tree

to which I nailed my head, and northward,

the flattened field where I loosed my dogs,

my body borne behind them making tracks

the hangman could not read atop his ledge

although I know he did look down at me

once more, his forehead softened, hair salt-damp,

his bone-white cape whipping downwind.

O N  Q U A L I T Y  H I L L

Winter staggered along with its ass

under too hard a spell for it to shake,

and the pine re-entitlement programs

had been slashed. But thinking better

of the bald white ground, each tree

returned and bent itself back into place

just nearly straight enough to give us

our natural world and as well achieve

the state order for no delirium.

I admit beneath their branches

I have once or twice allowed myself

to trust their perfectly synchronized shadows.

On the blasted heaths of our backyards,

we let them shade our families

no more than an inch or two,

and before I know it I’m coming to

in the dooryard snorting noisily,

arms deep in prizes and outsize checks.

Take, for example, the official request

to forego the sonogram, simply to hope:

it appears not one of us is distressed.

Because no one handles tears like us

with our tricked-out horse’s sense

of pain. Our object is to be led

into a neater submission blue as a god.

Peter Mishler’s new poems are appearing in the US magazines Prelude, Oversound, Prodigal, and Public Pool. His recent interviews are at BOMB, Tin House, Parnassus, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He serves as features editor for the international online journal of art and writing, Drunken Boat.


Copyright © 2016 by Peter Mishler, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.