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Three Poems
Sub Rosa


(Not the light that tethers towards) (a melting
fortunate, thanks due) (the undertow, or gone

thick around the edges) (to the smudge, 
the ghosts that hang about) (whose rule

I’ve learnt) (limp and worn through) (not that
but the footprint) (all so left behind, so tremorous


The damage on, the southern light
clambered bells to ring. And waning, 

tumbled the lake and its trenchancy
and left without decision. Pages

of novels littered the streets like salt. 
Some smoke, figured like damask, 

began to rise as the lamps, just lit, 
staved it all away. And all the shutters

opened, at last, the sundry houses
drawing the breath and the evening. 


it’s to be unheld) (to the ground) (The only
—among the clouds’ pallid echo

and the whirring traffic—the crunch of sand
and ice
) (could it be that I am yoked to you?) 


Wheel:  the ties among the places we inhabit

Chapter:  like so much salt dissolved into the slush

Erasure:  the lake with ice flown to the east

Discrepancy:  the ties among the places we inhabit

License:  lengthened days:  the face placed to the eye

Coriander:  the world sprung forth

Analepsis:  you step off the train:  ablaze:  you hold your tongue

Vex:  to work against; a faltered hinge

Trowel:  meditation



(A trick as old as) (what can happen
in the space) (as though to fall away) (the lake

white, and the ground, and the sky white
glowing as though the sun) (the name

you have given to the past) (my slanted
walls, the windows kicked out) (the loss

of sight: full of stones) (is my last obsession) 
(December’s gentle grace, April’s looming gray) 

The Silent Days


Hunt and peck, hunt and peck           the air here

Would that I were a river or a man of fewer words than this

Go to the fields    they smell of bergamot and the mud
                                               cold and ankle-deep

Beyond all this, there is a wall    beyond which    the dark

Watch the day           smoke from the heather

Let the wall stand until I cannot climb


The tea-kettle boils    the crow in the neighbor’s yard
                                     another brushstroke, another turn

Sky veers yellow    first petal falling from the magnolia tree


What wind there was whipped my hair and face

I waited out the hours in the dark      I waited underneath

We hope for ourselves, for the grasses and the trees

Follow this to the west

Have you tasted it, this ash that fills the air     the thrush

Still life on a table: a book, my glasses, my watch, upended


These days, it’s all splayed out for us    looped and relooped


Lawn swarmed with leaves; their dry crunch underfoot

Scrim of cloud        sky’s mask, counterfeiter that he is

A mighty Fortress is our God, a Bulwark never failing

Untangle    uncover    the undone and still-alive and waiting

What words do you use          what syntax, what fix

What    yes                  what      x


          1  |  Landscape

Some puddles slack in the street
after a rain, after swaying almost

breaking in the wind the tree
not much more than twigs

growing from a spindle-trunk
and barren, buds aching and

gasping for light, days longer
but clotted, no song, the wind & the rain

          2  |  Landscape

Was it correspondence they found
unbequested in a dresser drawer, 

antic script traced or amazed
on leaflets tattered at the edge? 

Was the account amenable to the facts, 
drawn upon and justified, legible

and summed, faithful to the letter? 
Was it a map or a drawing of a map? 

          3  |  Landscape

The region in which the tongue, pressed
to the teeth, is stilled and ready

to receive. The region in which
it is not what it is. We have not

ventured to sit beneath this tree
or that. Such branches, wrought

in arthritic clutch, black themselves
against the blackest night-tide hush. 

Jett McAlister received an MFA in poetry writing from the University of Virginia, and is currently writing a doctoral dissertation on contemporary poetry at the University of Chicago. His poems have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, Columbia Poetry Review, Center, and Crazyhorse.