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Five Laments for Our Good Earth
1. New World

Right there, where the sun winks green, and polished
copper edges zinc, bells dong

our doom from half-built towers. Nothing
is hypothetical anymore: not these slate

clouds in glass air, this sleight
of hope, these big shadows

landscape-sailing our breakable
acres, nor we, so recklessly

ourselves, so cogged with generosity
and lamentation, so urgently eye to eye.

2. Occurrence

Now by

brown leaves

foot, no choice
but to over-

look the un-

every lie
an ideal.

3. Chain

And thus contingency commenced
its explosive renaissance. No matter what

you intended, circumstance was the only word.
That rumble beyond the horizon, that silver

beam shooting under black clouds, laminating
the western walls with radiant

imminence—nothing was so real. We navigated
eternal dissolution with our kitchen

radio dances, our drunken embraces.
I touched you in that tiny

place and unconsciousness rippled across
your forehead. Children remained our bright

angels of insubordination, but consequence
inevitably followed

consequence. The refugees lined up, broken
by factuality, holding out

their salt-stained hats; the spigots wheezed,
birds fled the woods,

and our own shadows stretched across
the countryside and into the sky.

4. Confidence Man

He wakes us in the 4:00 a.m. quiet, sits us down
in our moonlit kitchen and, placing a cup of steaming

water in front of us, to which he adds a single basil leaf,
he talks in that unequaled voice. During blackouts,

he waits beside us while heat seeps through
the dripping air conditioner, and pedestrians walk home

by phone light, and he abides
until the refrigerator motor rattles on and the lamps flicker

brown, then bright. When we are old,
and our bodies are turning to that ugliest of meats, he hovers

at our bed’s end, weightless as an angel. But he is not an angel.
He has surrounded himself with acres

of consolation, but all we see is blue dust—faintly acrid
on the tongue, and it makes our eyes water.

“I wanted ours to be a perfect
union,” he tells us at the table in the back, candle out.

“I wanted every desire to be balanced, exactly,
by generosity. And stasis to be a form

of flight. But I was yammering
in my sleep. I was driving with my headlights

dark. And every word I told my love
was a lie. So here I am, waist-deep in cindered

beliefs, and I can’t stop lighting them. And I can’t make
this yearning leave. This yearning: my teaming city.

And I can’t stop my hope. I look at you and I am filled
with hope, and I am filled with yearning,

and I am hollowed out entirely, and I cannot
stop. I cannot stop.”

5. And

Over the black water, fog
begins, like the tender infiltration of not-being

into dawn. All gleams

have gone soft, the cedars flat
gray. All sounds

are small now, and end
in silence.

STEPHEN O’CONNOR is the author of six books, including Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings, a novel, and Quasimode, his forthcoming collection of poetry. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere.