How Breath Escapes Us
A half-naked woman dove into
this pool in December.
Her outline’s gone. It’s April,
a girl poised for the first dive
of the season.
She doesn’t know her body
echoes the arc a woman is
forgetting under the earth.
The shock of the water
wakes her body. We need
to deny how breath
escapes us like steam, how
we can love the dead
like Persephone. Or
an almost naked woman diving
into an icy pool
as if that could settle
anything. To chalk the shape
of her body, they had
to break through ice and snow
before drawing the position
she was found in,
frozen, fetal. Like
the empty space in the body
of a new mother,
everything settling back into place.
The sky a wound past the edges of buildings,
my wife and I burn blue-white,
storms off Lake Michigan elaborate gestures
we love to watch, though
we know the damage they could do.
Iron rods on roofs out west rise into skies
too open for the calm reason of percentages.
Faith hangs on where metal steeples tower
over towns, the black marks of collection
an accounting of those who’ve been saved.
Count the seconds, my wife says. We wait
for sound to tell us how far this light’s come.
Thunder disturbs the air. That was close, she says,
her whole body burning blue-white again.
We’ve seen storms move in over prairie,
the twisted antennas repaired by men, unsure
on the raw geography of roofs, who
couldn’t afford to pay someone to fix things.
I’ve learned to fix some things, but nothing
as grand as antennas that listen
in their rarified country to tell us
what we want or need to know. Nothing
that could be hurt by the sky
breaking into a blue-white wound.
I fix things we touch every day and depend on
but never praise. My wife and I,
naked in bed, watch the sky fragment again.
It’s farther away, she says. I want it to go calm
before it reaches any place it could scar.
I want there to be no damage a man can’t fix.
The way, sometimes, a simple touch can heal.
Renditions of Men
Abandoned barns fill with animals
they weren’t built to hold
that come and go through ruined walls.
Some fields lie fallow, the bitter ruin
of corn brittle and plowed under.
In winter, every field the same blank
brilliance, children, raw
from the cold, build renditions of men
in stark landscapes. A pale moon rises,
a rumor of something
solid and far off. Snow covers
everything but a few ragged stalks
of corn. The shadow of
an owl hunting things small enough
to carry off breaks the spell.
Where it dives, the snow’s disturbed,
stained with a struggle,
the white, subtle bones of motion.
With Bread to Fill the Air
Rain again. My wife wants to listen
with the lights out. This means
we can’t make the lake, she says.
Or afford the faith it would take to
leap naked over a fire we’d built
on the darkest day of the year and believe
we called back the sun.
Days we do make the lake, gulls are hungry
and circle, assuming
we’ve come with bread to fill the air.
Across the courtyard a light comes on,
disrupting the dark. Imagine,
my wife says, hillsides lit up
in winter with prayers set
by men and women to call back the sun.
There’s an island nearby we like
to visit, walking slow,
trying to name the voices of birds,
warblers singing. All of human history
hasn’t made anything better.
My wife sings to sparrows, and laughs
on bridges barn swallows nest under.
They skim water without touching the surface.
We can’t help but love their certainty.
My wife, made unsure by weather,
sings in Welsh. It goes well with the rain.
It could be a song about fires on hillsides
where families chanted prayers
they’d been taught, believing
what they did made a difference. Maybe
it did. Sometimes I’m not sure
how real something needs to be
before it’s believable.
My wife wants to know if the lake’s possible
tonight, after the rain. I think
of the surface, marked with rough weather.
Yes, I want to tell her. I tell her Yes.
George Looney’s books include The Precarious Rhetoric of Angels (2005 White Pine Press Poetry Prize), Attendant Ghosts (Cleveland State University Press, 2000), Animals Housed in the Pleasure of Flesh (1995 Bluestem Award), and the 2008 novella Hymn of Ash (the 2007 Elixir Press Fiction Chapbook Award). In addition, Open Between Us, a new book of poetry, is due out from the Turning Point imprint of WordTech Communications by June, 2010. He is chair of the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State Erie, editor-in-chief of the international literary journal Lake Effect, translation editor of Mid-American Review, and co-director of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.