Roger Mitchell


Whiff of fudge brownie, clack of broken cartwheel, coffee
               under the cool
reminiscences of Chet Baker’s burred versions
               of bop. He can’t dismiss the memory
                              of someone’s kiss, but nearly killed himself on coke
or heroin
               while I was standing in front of a clock

wondering what time was. Or maybe driving that cab
               a world away,
the one with a tremble of loose bolts in its throat
               (I was never sure what gear I was in),
                              wobble of simultaneous mutinies, called
having not one
               idea where I might untie my shoes

in six months, a year, except on the planet somewhere.
               Forty or so
years later, still polishing the slick surfaces
               of the morning, this day a wash of pale
                              sunlight off the tan-gray slabs of pre-stressed concrete
behind David Smith’s
               “Volton XXV,” debris of steel mill

welded almost where it fell. It was trying to draw that,
               the flat, cold wall
behind it, that showed me the unstillness of raw space,
               throw whatever you like up into it.
                              The potted ficus across the way holds its leaves
outward, as in
               “eagerness to be,” bottled in this light.


I can’t watch Swann too long,
except out of the side of my eye.
Even now I want not to be
cantilevering down this line
to see the scales come off a fish.
I’m sure I have some email
I’d much rather complain about
having to read than watching
this rickety construction bleed
through the pores of his abject
but deeply manipulative need—
to what? Bed some equally
infantile member of the tribe
in hopes that love might emerge,
full-formed, out of the froth
of his fevered member? He would
shudder to hear such talk. I do myself,
watching him fumble, not only
with Odette’s diaphanous bodice,
but with the language of stammer
and sweated confusion (how can
it be so terrifyingly unclear which
emotion is real or comes first,
ardor or the narcotic of needing
to dine at a fashionable address?).
I don’t yet know how it will turn out,
but know from the movies the yowl
of hounds that have caught the scent,
the scrambling for cover under a bush,
and from a moment or two in the past,
the smell of there being nothing
inside my shirt, not even me,
just that stuttering muskrat, the heart.


It could be the pile of sticks next door,
or the piles of papers on the dining room table,
piles of varying sizes and heights,
stacked in a way to suggest that something
was meant or intended
but is as yet unrevealed,
born in the mind of my neighbor, born in mine,
or given my neighbor to mind
by himself perhaps or the neighbor before him,
or in the case of the papers piled
on the table at which
it is no longer possible to dine,
allowed by me to accrue
and wait.
But for what?

I note the slant of the thinking,
the hasty shape of the stacking,
the needful grouping of like things in a group,
as though the two of us knew
we could move only a few things forward,
that life saw to this cautious economizing,
this hobbling,
promoted it as a check or balance
to the giddy velocity of certainty and rapture,
and we would have to leave
whatever it was these piles might be found to mean,
or be,
           to you perhaps,
to bring nearer to a human shape
where one thing follows from
another. Not follows, follows from.
As looking at a pile of sticks
follows the piling
and the leaving of the pile there,
to be looked at, considered,
made an object of contemplation and wonder.
And later, I’m sure,
           no, certain,


Other lives otherwise waste away.
Is that thunder or the snowplow?
Afternoon after a day of still,
flat, calm, white cloud. Quite loud
if listened to too long. Alike
a kind of life lived against.
Who wouldn’t want it who had it.
An armload of split, dry wood.
Low quiet roar of wind winds
down the light, drowns the wait
for what comes after all. Fall,
night, and sleep, become us.
Eat whatever lies about
or hasn’t found a what yet.


I’m living in a box and the box has a window.
Of course it has a window.

The box is rather sprightly, laid about
with do-dads and magic petroleum,

and the window has a dusty bird print
smack in the middle of it where a dove

mistook a piece of glass for nothing.
In this life, you have to watch your nothing,

or, bang, you get a head-ache or a broken neck.
We laid the dove out where a hawk might find it.

Though I suspect a hawk, like the rest of us,
has to snatch it on the wing, or die.

Roger Mitchell is the author of eleven books of poetry, among them Lemon Peeled the Moment Before: New and Selected Poems (2008). Two previous books include Half/Mask (2007) and Delicate Bait, which Charles Simic chose for the Akron Prize, in 2003. Other recognition for his writing includes two fellowships each from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Indiana Arts Commission and one from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He lives in mountains of northern New York.
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