Fishing the Black Warrior with Adam
We’re north of Tuscaloosa on the bank,
the churning river calm in our green cove
this time of day. The channel cats outflank
us, snatch our bait, predict our every move.
There’s nothing in the water here we can’t
go home without, and we’ve got Diet Coke,
two folding chairs. The water’s impeccant
in holding out on us, and so we soak
our hooks and lines and let the bullshit flow
the way all country boys are raised to do.
Mosquitos bite. The sky and water glow
the same unblinking shades of white and blue.
On the dock, our bait—a pack of chicken liver—
leaks through the slats into the blood-tinged river.
After He died and the guards dragged Him away,
the watchers pulled the cross down like a goal post,
split and splintered it right there—a host
of grieving termites. From Vatican to eBay,
the fragments of the One True Cross persist—
one prayed toward to heal a dying kid,
one still waiting for the highest bid
to roll on in. So many shards exist,
it’s said, that one could build a church from them,
whole rows of houses, entire suburban blocks,
a Dairy Queen or two. Just what is it
we want from wood we can’t get from a hymn?
Yet neither cross nor song will stop the clocks
from ticking as we pace, and brood, and spit.
It’s the single seed that makes the pine—
for each must sprout alone—
but every seed is fertilized
with the others in the cone.
Only when the cone spreads open
can pollen penetrate
the hardened, tight-knit shell of scales
that keeps seeds separate.
When the seeds are nestled in the dirt
the cone’s work is not through;
the pinecone feeds the cleansing fires
that make the forest new.
From Life to Death
[Translation from Slovak: “Za život na smrť” by Ján Stacho]
Life today is muddy water.
The song of the lakebed is a lie.
But you must learn to look down there
and drink its freedom through your eye.
Yet you’re a man. Do you fear war?
Fear may be all you have today.
The body flings your heart, severe
as a soldier, from life to death’s dark sway.
I understand you, know your dread,
this new flood’s storm cloud over the land.
Like a soldier, you want—before you’re dead—
to grip the heavens in your hand.
But the heavens own Earth—they arch above…
this black soil, too, is their belonging,
and the child that grows in the woman you love,
so you oughtn’t deny them anything.
Do you fear war’s harbinger?
Tears bring sorrow, and curses blight.
Your heart, as stringent as a soldier,
must call you to the march: left, right.
[Translation from Slovak: “Malá radosť” by Ján Stacho]
The beauties that please me in time of doubt
are flowers, from which will come strong medicine.
Birds, though winged, sometimes go by foot.
They’re gleaming river waters on a mountain.
Nick McRae is the author of The Name Museum (C&R Press, 2014) and Mountain Redemption (Black Lawrence Press, 2013), as well as editor of Gathered: Contemporary Quaker Poets (Sundress Publications, 2013). His poems have appeared in Cincinnati Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Southern Review, Third Coast, and elsewhere. He serves as associate editor of 32 Poems, poetry coordinator for the annual Best of the Net anthology, and is currently Robert B. Toulouse Doctoral Fellow in English at the University of North Texas.
Note on translations:
Ján Stacho passed away in his native Slovakia in 1995. His poetry collections—the last published in 1978—remain out of print, and his literary estate, if one persists, has proven elusive. As such, I have translated his poems in good faith and with the hope that they might do something to honor his memory and preserve the legacy of his work.