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Three Poems

—For Gene Tanta

He’s sleeplessness pulled through
a sieve, snake branch beliefs
dangle from, overgrown
with flourishing abjections. Glance

wears down grass to gravel, lamb
to less than sacrifice, night contours
weather with its full vocabulary
of line. Night and hunting made a pledge

to stay the shape of sundriness,
waxing lunatic with blood and pride,
part of light’s rhetoric decayed
to prey. (Predictably stained

verdigris, the wall of what he was
where grass blades cut me green
as clinging vines, climbed me verdant
with impossibility.) Wind fingered

sky to azurite (blue-basic carbonate
of copper, a semi-precious stone
derived therefrom), weather
wondered how much longer

he would wait beneath the abalone
shell iridescent against question’s
kiss, awake to any irony. The ghost
is ready but the meat is raw, so

many salted handfuls tossed like rain
across the shoulder. Downpours of place
align the seen, the happiness worn away
to damp sidewalks, spring-colored

cures for love. He sleeps away each day
all night, failed carnivore, blank axiom.

The Tendency of Dropped Objects to Fall

The air is thick with gods, crowded streets
rife with them, an infestation of
divinity, “the servant-keeping class.”
What shape wants them? Memory

is money and what wind wants to do
with it is scatter. Wind doesn’t. Want
doesn’t. Assembles the materials for bodies
drifting through the past on rubber rafts,

with plastic oars they don’t know
how to use. Blank, wounded, or rendered otherwise
helpless. Justice admires John
but never tells him so (better to break

than to be broken)
, establishing a proper format
for suffering. So many laborers
have elapsed, “the torturable classes”
singing Deus. Singing Without money

we’ll all die.
 They’ve all died. History
leaves no witnesses, a when and why,
a where and what became
of them. In exile Andromache’s handmaid

builds a miniature Troy with toothpicks
and superglue, with matchsticks
from a story that she read. A useless brilliant
thing with tinfoil walls and someone

rolls over it in his sleep. The notes read
that is Not loved, or I shall totally
remove. Or Be wealthy, that is
Not my people. With us. I was. In

me. Draw near. Head bowed,
still thinking and.

Water Is a Museum

Broke the glass and cut my hand
again, the water looks like shards
churned up, not enough in the world
to come clean, wash my hands

of me. Here comes the blood, lukewarm,
dilute, and insufficient: contaminated
anyway. So let the water overtake
myself, so let me disappear in drown;

I heard the sibyl said I want to die.
After a lost squall, sea sung slowly
wrong, the poisoned moon
goes gray, standing at the threshold

of whiteness, witness: even
the purest winter sullies me, clouded
over with denial. And the others
more sure of salvation, salve on

the ragged wound? They watch
while I am leaked ashore
with faces of wonder why
and what I must have done. Blood

seeps into the dirty sand of personhood
and paints it black, my song
gone wrong again, capsized, toxic
by-product of me. They say I made myself

my fate, and make it sad; concern
evaporates like morning mist.
Whatever is a hand
must want to harvest me, thresh me

grain-like, husk crumbled small enough
to fertilize its fields of virtue, sheer
virginity, if there should come to be
some water. I might have been a

somewhere, I might be something
you need to destroy.

Reginald Shepherd (1963–2008) is the author of five books of poetry including Fata MorganaOtherhoodand Some Are Drowning (all University of Pittsburgh).