Eric Pankey's most recent book is Cenotaph (Knopf, 2001).
The Fever and the Dream
The tide-wash beneath the backlit hour draws itself thin across the
The light dappled and depleted, porous and vestigial.
I am an archivist of light effects, each offered as an ex-voto, a
A stand-in for all I will not allow myself to say.
Whose pruning hook
Cleft the devil's hooves? Whittled the moon down to a sickle?
I like to look back on paradise through a peephole: the ditch a clot of
The nuthatch pestering a paste of seeds lodged in pine bark,
The black snake, a slip of breath and spark,
coiled in the cut-back roses.
To minimize disappointment, one follows the magician's misdirection,
Refuses to see the performance for just what it is and has been: a
Asked to define the moment, I offered the following: a preserve, a
An enclosure, a habitat, a dossier, a drawer for souvenirs, a curio
A vestibule, an apparition within a bell jar. Luckily, there were no
In each moment, I see the lightning trace of the Maker's hand.
Or to embellish:
The lightning trace of the Maker's hand separating day and night.
I always longed for an ear like that: to hear the locks, one by one,
tumble and release.
Hans Bellmer said, "Desire shapes the image of the desired one."
Cold Mountain admonishes, "If pleasures come be happy."
I put my hands over my ears,
Shut my eyes, hum to keep myself from thinking, yet the fever and dream
The fever a whetstone, the dream an axe's edge honed to reveal the
heartwood's fine grain.
Owl in the Vineyard
Thought after thought the wheel turns: desire, form, formlessness,
And there beyond no-thought, desire.
to the crows
Say vespers as they gather in the canopy of a narrow tract of woods.
I consult almanacs and star charts, offer garlands and myrrh.
I put a stick through the spokes, but it does not stop the headlong
One must catch the scent of the wolf before it catches one's own,
Which is to say, the wind is a variable, and never a constant:
The wind warped by the cedar; wind clenched in embers;
The wind like a midday trance as the horizon is swallowed by a snake.
How does the bee ride the poppy in a sun-struck field of wind?
I say a prayer for the world and in the midst lose my place
Amid the winter garden, the rain garden,
minor chord of seasons.
With grassfire cinders, I smudge in the blur between sky and water,
Re-inscribe the coordinates of the unmarked mass graves, the road into
Daily, anonymity and vanity escort me home. Daily, I say my prayers.
Lead gives back little light and what it gives it does so miserly,
Sullenly, with an exhausted shrug, neither a bribe nor a tribute.
There are times when the fire is mineral and the wind is mineral.
There are times when I say I when I mean everything I am not:
An owl in a vineyard, say, or an unrepentant exile.
Let Me Rest On That Peaceful Mountain
Soon enough I will wash my hands above the spoils, soon enough feast
among the flies
At a table, daubed and speckled, where my ghost will sit before the
body it once burden.
Until then, I transcribe the changes: salt into air, air into
anthracite, anthracite into fern.
Until then, I watch the creek shrink and fill through the seasons,
watch the stones smoothed
And rearranged by a torrent, watch the stone's unflinching stone-ness
endure the drought.
"Those old songs are my lexicon and prayer book," Dylan says of "I Saw
"Let Me Rest on that Peaceful Mountain," and "Keep on the Sunny Side."
I put on Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart, " Tom
Waits' "The Cold, Cold Ground"
and "Jesus Gonna Be Here,"
and EmmyLou Harris's
cover of Lucinda Williams' "Sweet Old World."
What comfort I feel, though broken and buried, at the promise of
redemption on this earth that is passing.
More and more I forget the names of things or I'll step into a room and
forget why I entered.
If I wait, what was elided catches up with me, the name or reason, and
I go about my business.
Every day at 5:05 p.m. someone calls, and when I pick up the phone,
the person says nothing.
Hello, I say once or twice, then we listen to one another breathe and
neither of us wants to the first
To hang up, to be the one to let the other have such a sublime,
mischievous, and useless satisfaction.
I look out as a hawk settles and preens on a low-branched oak outside
the church window.
I was impatient at that very moment with questions of the spirit, the
weight of grace.
Pure in its severity, the hawk turned its head, and though I saw its
eyes, I did not meet them.
Beyond these six wooded acres:
the Little River
Turnpike, the Beltway, the road home.
How often the out-there seems a diorama, a lesson in an enclosure, an
example of the real.
Light By Which I Read
One does not turn to the rose for shade, nor the charred song of the
redwing for solace.
This past I patch with words is a flaw in the silvering,
memory seen through to.
There I find the shallow autumn waters, the three stolen pears,
The horizon edged with chalk, loose ends where the fabric frayed.
Each yesterday glacier-scored, each a dark passage illumined by a
I begin to fathom the brittle intricacy of the window's ivoried scrim
For years, I managed without memory ? stalled, unnumbered, abridged-
No more alive than a dismembered saint enthroned in one hundred
Now, it is hard not to say I remember,
fact, not to remember.
Now, I hear the filament's quiver, its annoying high frequency, light
by which I read.
River mist, haze, mudbanks, and rushes mediate the dark matter
Between two tomorrows:
one an archive of chance
The other a necropolis of momentary appearances and sensations.
One, a stain of green, where a second wash bleeds into the first.
The other, an arbored masquerade, time-bound, slick with early rain,
As if to impose a final hermeneutic, all at once the cicadas wind down.
The gooseberry bush looms like a moon: each berry taut, sour, aglow.
The creek runs tar in the cloud-light, mercury at dusk.
Then the frogs start up:
a pulse-tick hollow at my
temple, clay-cold at the marrow.
And it seems, at last, I've shed my scorched and papery husk.