archives spring 2008



Dreaded Wrong
        (Poem Starting with a Line by Dara Wier)

Much of the breathing we’d half-dreaded had materialized
as ripples across our unmade bed.
We were constantly setting sail, we were sea-sick,
and unsure of our paper boat, but we believed
in the trade winds, and said our prayers
to the promises the other had made,
the only unfickle gods, the only ones
you can depend on.  What we dreaded
were the mythic monsters that waited
at the flat end of the world
mouths opened to swallowing all
who followed the fickle, or the ill-winds,
or blood sacrifices to petty deities. 
We followed ourselves
and inked maps so we would find our way
back along the jagged coasts.  If I tell you
what we dreaded most

I would tell you first that we dreaded wrong.
All our fears were about trusting the other too much,
when that is the wind that filled our sails.


Eight Ball
        (Poem Starting with a Line by Lee Upton)

we would be portable by now,
yes, pocketable too,
like chalkblocks or love,
something palmable, proud—
the sawbuck on the siderail.

we should be hard orbs
and see ourselves
as well-rounded perfection—
ah!—the corner pocket of desire,
I want to bank hard and disappear
in its green velvet and juke box lullabies.
I want to roll, spin, orbit the runners
tunnel-of-love down and clack-clack
in the underworld. an Orphic eight ball
singing, try again later, turn around
and meet my scratched lover,
yellow-white and blue chalk pocks,
she and I could live in a pocket
of answer only
I can provide.


I, I Was
        (Poem Starting with a Line by Meghan O’Rourke)

I, I was the snow that fell too soon,

the wedding streamers in an empty room,
the anagrammed heart, spelling out one guilt
then pumping out doom. I was the sweet-tooth

tooth’s halo, the top memory of the weirdest
worm in the killing jar. I was the whiner-adept
bleating a streak down the gunmetal blue

highway looking for a pickup hand of poker.
High stakes because the ground is for snakes
and scorpions—no place to plot a victory party.

I was counting the hangman’s rosary beads—
the skip and the tarnished link looking like
what I had always believed mercy would embody—

a small filament of God. O glorious string theory
that binds one particle to my eye, be the light!
And I, I was the shadow flickering on the wall,

the one that grew too large and fell too soon.


I, Michigan

Work whistle:  limbs rising but tingle half asleep.
Tornado warnings in the breezes, sparrows quiet,
the work-damned shuffle onto rumble buses
with busted mufflers—they dart traffic like grotesque
ambulances on our way to somewhere tragic, somewhere
automatic, without any witnesses.  We mull
around other bodies like crows, picking almost pneumatically,
pretending our boundaries, the false hope of space,
sonambulant, this lever up, pull and push away, next
dreary widget. Is this what Hell is?  Could it be this easy?
As mundane a haze, still as fog, systematic as robots?
Free coffee and doughnuts in the breakroom—15 minutes
then back. Back down to the clean concrete floors.
Someone etched I Love You on a part—best report it to Quality Control.


Urge Evolution

First it’s some guy with hair everywhere,
out pounding the sticks and stones
for a meal.  He finds like minds, he feels
a stirring in those hairier places.
Next there’s a stadium full of people
chanting, BEL-LY, BEL-LY, BEL-LY!
And it doesn’t matter what inning
it is when Hunger comes to the plate.
They are all here to watch the table set,
they want to feast and drink and see
with their reptilian pocket drive.
The big celebration, the after party,
the drunken glow, the homo erectus jet set,
rub the elbows and the gums—
satiated on quickly, before urge sparks again. 


J. P. Dancing Bear is the author of Conflicted Light (SalmonPoetry, 2008), Gacela of Narcissus City (Main Street Rag, 2006), Billy Last Crow (Turning Point, 2004), and What Language (Slipstream, 2002).  His poems have been published in Shenandoah, Poetry International, New Orleans Review, National Poetry Review, Marlboro Review, Mississippi Review, Verse Daily, and many others.  He is the editor of the American Poetry Journal and the host of “Out of Our Minds,” a weekly poetry program on public radio station KKUP.