Kevin Prufer is the author of The Finger Bone (Carnegie-Mellon, 2002) and Strange Wood (LSU, 1998), and edited The New Young American Poets (SIU, 2000). He is poetry editor for Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing.







Narcissistic Elegy


The little black gun where my heart should be

fired and fired until,

like yours, it stopped.  And such a pause in my chest,

my ribs grown steel and the cave all dark, grown barred—

                                                                                             The hammer

just clicked and the gun just sparked.






And the trees in the window went whoosh in the wind,

and my little black gun was dead, like yours—

                                                                           How fool!  And grim

as the snow came down so the wind blew white

like a hospital’s room, as white as your sick room—

                                                                                   Soon and soon






but your breath wouldn’t come.  Oh soon, I said,

but no breath in the room.

                                           And the books on the nightstand

and the nurse call box—I watched your chest but it never rose,

and I watched your chest, but the room now quiet

as the breathless awe

           when the guns all stop and the hero’s dead.










- Ghost of an ancestor



Since I came back to this world without a halo to see by,


since I have no choice but to stumble, since I thought that we’d progressed.


My hands are stiff, clasped this way at my chest.  My heavy feet, my lashes still falling from the eyes like petals.


When the sentries came, centuries ago, I cried into my sleeve until even the flies abandoned me.


And when they dragged me off, I could not forgive them, but clawed at their forearms, my feet scraping the earth.


Treason, the crowds along the Appian Way cried.  And, death.  So they put me in a bag, and the bag into the river, where I remained


until fished out.  Until pulled from and up the bank, where they untied me and washed my chest and broke my bones


into place so I would look at peace and restful.  And they put me in a tomb.


And it was treason, but  I could not say no to it.  And it was true, but I was not ashamed, being too cold.  Since it was gold that  I was offered.


In breaths, I have measured every year.  And, recently, in plows and bombs on the field above my tomb. 


The plow goes overhead like a beautiful idea, fading when it reaches the corners of the field, then rumbling back. 


Such footsteps, we said of the bombs.  Such legs they have!


Since there was nowhere else for me to go, I sought you out.   Since you have ignored me—


The field is peaceful now that the bombs have stopped.  The city smolders on the hill and a little god keeps singing in the trees. 


The truth is, I have had no say in this.