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This Poem

This poem cannot be trusted.
This poem will change where it is going.
This poem will change where
you are going.

In a dream just before waking
I am writing these lines
in big white letters on the black
and white surface of a pad of paper,
a calendar I’ve found at hand.
I’m on a boat, an excursion with
family, friends. My husband’s phone
rings and a voice from below deck
announces, A catastrophe has occurred.
The catastrophe is the disappearance
of a side of beef he’s ordered, but
I’ve heard attack: bombs, conflagration.
Je ne regrette rien, I murmur –
a smokescreen thrown up against
the ashes of my life’s intentions.

Smokescreens or conflagration –
we’re all in the same side of beef and
what I do in it is write a poem, free,
indeterminate, proclaiming its freedom,
its indeterminacy. I wake with its lines
in my head – I won’t tell you how many,
or which are the ones I make up waking.
What dream tells me is a new story
I don’t know how to read; what
waking rehearses is the old one
I neither forget nor foresee.


A Bow

Cold fog, low lying and rising from it
the sun a molten orange, decaying but aglow,
liquid fire. Mist drifts into the garden.
All night in sleep, dream, I'm tense,
a bow, strung, pulled tight
with intention.

The hills across the river
are purple green, sharp.
Along the Susquehanna now
tiger lilies furl their petals like fierce
tongues, flames in wind,
exotic, feral.

In my husband's dream
a pile of cement he needs has
disappeared under his eyes. I can't
imagine what he needed it for,
so I do just that, imagine:
a foundation, fortification,
the wall to block off
a secret, weights for anchoring
bodies buried in
an ocean, the river.

This morning the river's
surface is a net, mesh, infinite
wrinkled grid of ancient skin
fluid in motion endlessly
glittering, repetitive.

The wise child of my dream
won't speak to me waking, turns
his chiseled head of curls, his fine-
boned back away from my questioning,
won't toss a pearl fine as his baby
teeth my way in morning's cool
light for all my conceiving
him in the fertile dark.

The still garden blooms with
the early gold flowers of finch
flitting in and out of young pale green
leaves. The sky breaks, divided:
east a gray mass rising into floating
delicate repeated small islands
white against the blue, filmy
billows south.

Nights, I travel the country
of the past, moving from its almost
forgotten landmarks into an alternate
present, the life that might be
mine and isn’t. A future I wish
for, a future I fear each lures me
like the sudden flowering on
my trellis of roses and wisteria,
lush explosions of summer’s
last growth spurt.

On the creek there’s shining
and over the hill, in a white lull
under the heavy gray burden of another
mountain, slant rays of  light.
A pair of ducks go over. It’s quiet,
it’s cold, it’s waiting.  


Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, was published in May, 2011 by Word Press. Her second collection, The Ceremonies of  Longing, winner of the 2002 AWP Award Series in Poetry, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in November, 2003. An earlier volume, The Country of  Women, was published in 1995 by Calyx Books. Her poems have appeared over the past thirty years in journals including Court Green, The Southern Review, APR, The Gettysburg Review, Slant, Prairie Schooner, The New Republic, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Missouri Review, and The Colorado Review.