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Six Poems
Nocturne: After Your Brother’s Funeral   

On this earth with no foothold, autumn evening, this road
             with no one going down it, you go

vanish, walking and walking, varnish shadow with shadow,
             —a stillness to that

a phone, unringing, in a pocket deep, unyielding, a tunnel
             of pepper trees bent

under the weight of purpose, or lack of, listening a way of feeling
             —hulls popping underfoot—

but to linger in smell, the bite and spice, to wallow in memory
             the cracked peppercorn

dressing on a baked potato (his) foldout card table, dinners
             on Sunday

it’s Sunday and dark, no cure for that, no feeling more final
             the long ellipsis walking

towards a phone call, a quiet place—here or here—waiting
             a way of not

feeling, a phone in stillness, silence, waiting another word
             for denial

(a therapist, sometime later, will say) down the road
             there is no punctuation

for the full-stop, no way to fool the light—here and here,
             spangles on a leaf, cool pavement

to hate the moon, the stars—the night absolute—headlights
             down the road, in your direction         


Four Years Sober

The way, wherever home is—whatever
home is—morning light, always through

that one tree, half-slung window and across
the bedspread, is a reddish gold coating

everything in remember.  Every idea,
upon waking, shard of some never-

to-be-repaired vase, clean topaz, bumped
off the mantle years ago at a party

which ended, like so many—warm compress
and a trash bag—with loneliness.   

I never needed a thing, a cowboy
friend of mine said, once, his face a low burn

across what was left of our campfire, until
I didn’t have it.  Red eye, swelling,

receding, of the night’s last cigarette.  
Memory the smoke which, without burn

in the body, its brief life there, would be
just smoke.  Hardly smoke at all—trailing up

a ways and, in time, every time, dispersing
prayer-like over the sky’s far cartographies.

Stargas.  Moon puddle.  The atmosphere
ablaze, once, many lives ago, now wise

in its smolder.  I poured dark liquor from
the white tea kettle we’d packed in while

he, sipping, betraying nothing of the burn,
told me about his dog, the one he’d just had

to put down in the backcountry.  Dry crescent.
Night-jeweled river.  Folks talk about the light, how

it leaves their eyes when they go, to each star,
a private heat, but that’s the thing—the light

was there, their whole lives, sleepless, it was there
until I closed his eyes.  Like a penny

fallen to the bottom of a river, glinting here,
there, faintly red and, depending on where

you stand, and for how long, gold—it remains. 
                                     And is buried.             


Coal Country

At dusk, crossing the Appalachians by car, holding, unholding the hand that holds yours,
             reaches for it—the road, too winding, requires two fists.

You drive like you’re mad at me

Trees a growing darkness, darkness a slow shawl concealing, more and more, the cratered
             face of some peak, nameless, the long neck of a rusted-over crane—like you’re
             mad at everyone.  

Something about the sun here, low and red, always eluding the flip-down mirror—which
             you flip down anyway.   

On either side of the road, beyond the night frogs, cricket strings, a silence
             detonates into impassable silence, a bloom, a density within the greater dark.

You look ahead, It’s painful when you clear the air  / the road too narrow to turn from,
             the guard rail too frail. 

I  haven’t always lived up to / So much for Jellico—an empty BP cracked with weeds,
             stray dandelion, a feral cat prowling the overgrowth. 

especially when there is so much / ploughing beneath the car, the road, the darkness total
             save for what the headlights touch, briefly, and leave behind. 

You Asked About Elegy

Full of music, cactus flower, stars, but—but the pressures
under which it folds.  How it sort of falls apart when read aloud
or said above a hush.  What we might call its comprehension,
its physics.  Like names of constellations, something new
for something ancient, more than—no energy lost among
collisions—and that’s love, I think. 
                         Spent flowers rich, somehow, in decay,
in time passing, the effects of.  Certain words left behind.
Pages turned, turned from—dreams in new cities, of weather
in new cities, something lost in transition, something brought
across the sky, a scar in a storm.  I have inflicted my only
serious injuries.  I have one good hand, which I leave free

for gestures, handling money; the other holds the music, is held
            by something or someone longer-lasting than shame.           


My brother dies / I move back to California

Dawn light again, again across water, lyric with no end-line, no linebreaks, the
             Pacific obtrusive in its courting of rhythm, reflecting low sun. 

Flip the mirror down, watch through a half-squint the road, side-lit, swallowed
             and swallowed, satisfying nothing but holding a place.

The ocean, said Spicer, doesn’t mean to be listened to, doesn’t need a willing reader to
             reflect the violent grace it lives by, makes new and, in turn, more—what?

So I listen to audio recordings of rain, of lectures on rain, how it dries, returns, the
             pavement innocent of water.  I think about the shape a lifetime takes: sand and
             stone the ocean carves out of sand and stone; how, a little sadly, the wave must
             change shape, rise, break to gain shore.  

Occasional silence to drift within, briefly, whose edges I never glance but glance off
             of, am redirected by.  

Then it’s knee to wheel, flame to paper: a long drag.  A phonecall, its dumb chimes—a
             lull in the rain. 

Ahead, where forest, without warning, is no longer forest, a level plane reaches out to
             day and thunder, a day that is new, a thunder that is old, newly old.  Light and the
             absence it magnifies, its distance from sound. 

I let the call go to voicemail and the rain begins—and the rain begins, again, to fall.



Tonight I can’t remember why the wise man builds his city
out of snow, who or what he is avenging. No art is total,

not even his, even though it fools the gaze and kills
from within, supplants piety, despair.  I smoke

and walk around, a dog sniffing where other dogs have been,
have marked their place in passing.  The sky narrates

winter, lends voice to the architecture, or at least a tone.   
The toe-to-heel means walking backwards which, if we’re being

honest, is what the living do—walk in one direction, talk
in another—the dead unable to rest, too many minor appearances:

every vagrant gust a cue—snow dusted from the eaves—
to follow six feet behind the conversation.  Any closer

and the spheres become undefined at the edges, art
the slowest death, death the sharpest mode of living.  It’s cold

but bright and I feel old, older than I hope ever to be again.
Nothing sad about it, nothing but distances

collapsing, fear on the inhale.  Beautiful the way death
can be, sometimes, a dog making of its body a soft crescent,

pressing against the other dog, if there’s another dog, the exhale
long but unremarkable, the last of what it brought here, what
it leaves behind—a small cloud, briefly, then stillness.  

D.S. Waldman is a Marsh-Rebelo scholar at San Diego State University, where he teaches creative writing. His work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Georgia Review, Poetry Northwest, Gettysburg Review, Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, The Common, Missouri Review, and Los Angeles Review. He’s received fellowships, support and awards from Middlebury College, Kenyon Review summer workshops, San Diego State University, and Georgia Review. His website is