JOE WENDEROTH teaches at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. He is the author of Disfortune (Wesleyan, 1995), It Is If I Speak (University Press of New England, 2000), and the chapbook The Endearment (1999). His book Letters to Wendy’s, parts of which have appeared in American Poetry Review and Nerve, is forthcoming from Verse Press.


Clean, the sun against the numb wall of morning.
I am provided for by dead men.
They come through the wall, the other wall,
the wall the sun has not touched - cannot touch -
and they ask the question for which I live.
They, the dead men, ask the question
as if my blood would answer them,
as if my blood, in answering,
would somehow bring them back to life
for one brutal moment in the sun -
but my blood does not answer.
My blood is silent, the men remain dead,
I don't know what it is of mine that speaks,
and finally, when they have not heard me
enough, I do not understand the question.


The cold light of the sea never opened
for me except in that language, the one
I never understood. There it opened
like a door in a mirror. And I sang,
somewhere inside that door, somewhere inside
the sea, and no one heard, and no one sang
along, and the Mothers looked for a way
to take their children to the mirrorless
bottom. Like stones they sank down into what
my voice could not touch, and there they remained.
More than the cold chains in the night, more than
the silence of the language I knew
and could still speak, more than the song I sang,
more than the sea itself, they remained.