Jonathan Minton

Five poems from LETTERS

You were like a figure appearing at the mouth of a cave.
You were planting flowers and the sun painted this scene.
In our rooms, the others were arranged
as days when we slept late and the afternoons
when your arms were bare and I carried firewood
into the cabin we imagined was at the edge of a park.
Sometimes desire comes back as dogs barking at night.
Their hunter flees while the deer is pressed to the thicket.
You were like this figure appearing. I was like a passenger
entering a new city, documents in hand, the sun in my eyes.



To travel by night over a bog or marsh
To lose your bearings, to be lost in a boat
To follow a single burning ember, to see only its smoke
To enter a home through the smallest gap
To raise children to be murderers or thieves
To fear the unbaptized, to recoil at the sight of serpents
To trick the devil with his own ghostly coin
To burn a candle until the flame is small and foolish
To wear one’s cap and coat turned inside out
To mark the spot of hidden gold, to bury it again
To reflect in quartz, or the white plumage of owls
To advance and retreat without touching the earth
To breathe the exhalations that arise
To burn and never consume


Dear reader, you are more than eyes that stare.
You are as serene as the blue on blue
along the coasts of Toulon. La inconnue,
you are air and water. You arrive as a picture.
Someone named it the drowning girl,
but every town has claimed you.

Dear reader, there is no word for a color
until you have learned to create it. The first blue
was a void. It is never used in Homer,
and Egyptians used the word eye to describe it.
Because you are a stranger,
there is a sky of this humor above us.

There are teal-colored ducks in their harbors.
They are yours, and will never be mine.


The world is heat and thunder in the narrows.
But it is not immaculate, and little of it will endure.
A beautiful fruit once filled our tongues, a knowledge of splendor,
a stimulant on the tired places of our lives. The thought of creating,
of centuries of plants and animals, their pleasure and pain,
they say how terribly heavy it is, they say our inherited memories would vanish
as cruel ghosts if given to just one night in this majesty. I will not tell you
if this is true. I will pass it on in a sealed letter,
and marvel at the names that force their way through as if from an egg.
Don't be confused by such surfaces; in the depths everything becomes law.
Perhaps, beneath all of it, there is a great motherhood.
Irony will either fall away from you like dead skin, or else it will thicken,
and your very hands will become as tools, too hardened to ever caress.

Adapted from Rainer Maria Rilke’s letters to Franz Kappus, 1903, translated by Stephen Mitchell


In my photograph of the lake,
you are pointing to a tree
bent low towards the bank.
The carmine moss along its trunk
is mirrored in the water -- a thick rust
blurring the green depths. The reflection
could be taken as something sinister,
a stain against the yellow egg of sun,
but you said it looked like ribbons.
I've forgotten what you were holding.
Your arm is pressed to your side
as if you meant to keep something close.
Perhaps it is a gift -- a silver bracelet
engraved with something I might have written.
We were smiling all day.
I remember you smiled. You said
you were smiling because the tree
looked like thin fingers holding strings
in a bowl of green water.
You could have held flowers, or an amulet.
It could have been evidence
of ceaseless wheels, hidden temples.
I could have inscribed it all there.

Jonathan Minton lives in central West Virginia, where he is an Associate Professor of English at Glenville State College. He is the author of the book Technical Notes for Bird Government (Telemetry Press, 2018), and the chapbooks In Gesture (Dyad Press, 2009) and Lost Languages (Long Leaf Press, 1999). His poetry has appeared in the journals Ecolinguistics, Connotation Press, Asheville Poetry Review, Coconut, E*ratio, Columbia Poetry Review, Reconfigurations, Free Verse, Trillium, and elsewhere. His poetry has also been included in the anthologies Poems for Peace (Dyad Press, 2006), Oh One Arrow (Flim Forum Press, 2007), and Crazed by the Sun (Cyberwit Press, 2008). He edits the journal Word For/Word (www.wordforword.info), and co-curates the Little Kanawha Reading Series.
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