Lead me, psychopompos, through my found
City, down into the underground.
– George Szirtes, “Metro”
A roar sucks them under
The wheels of a darkness without pain.
Off in the distance
There is someone
Like a signalman swinging a lantern.
– Frank Stanford, “The Light the Dead See”
An empty bench in the open, frosted over,
A naked tree pregnant with time stuffed
In its widening trunk,
Boughs bent by violent icicles bunched
Like unlit chandeliers on winter’s x-axis,
A river exiled from its state,
Currents curtailed at both terminals,
Rendered dry after much hammering
In winter’s metal works.
In the view ahead,
Gothic structures argue with the skyline,
Bored by the absence of the be-goggled ogler.
There’s beauty here, I say to myself,
In this isolated patch stripped of the stench of gutters
After a downpour.
There is a type of beauty here,
In this absence of motion,
In this giddy absence of flirtatious fruits on trees,
In this glorious absence of paraded Polaroid
Swung as crumbs are hauled at native ducks,
In this relieving absence of poachers
Making passes at passengers on the same tour.
There is beauty in absence,
Holding time in absent leaves,
Await winter’s worst
And the delayed return of summer.
Erratic Notes Left on a Trail
A bridge emerges from the remains of fog,
Imposing itself on my sight.
Its arch beautifully humped,
And I’m reminded of lumps on cow back,
The meaty spot a murderous blade
Must be thrilled to hack.
Underneath the bridge the river ebbs
As it journeys with a terminus in mind,
An infinite end
Albeit sure to empty
And rethread the loop.
A clearer view.
A carpet of algae wraps the bridge,
Draining its prehistoric strength,
Probing its intestines with roots we wish we had.
For those we love
We refrain from easy paths
And restrain the
Urge to run.
A note written in fog, on clear glass
Is memory erased at noon;
Falling and dipping in love
Left to fade in the face of light.
Home is where the umbilical cord lies
Buried between gnarled shrubs half-dead,
Overgrown and coated in shame,
A lie too crass to smear.
A dog follows its owner over the river,
Across the algae-covered bridge,
To the stare of sailing ducks.
May we return as geese and sailing ducks:
Humble, instinctual, without the tact to shell schools elsewhere,
To click the tongue at the remains of others.
The landscape is an apparition of a master’s piece
Discarded, rediscovered to great acclaim:
Fields of gold-colored leaves in fourteen stations of death
Lie to give depth, individually crisp,
The sky defaced with V-shaped strokes
Left for critics to name as birds.
There’s a swoosh of blue turning green,
An illusion of a nearby sea,
And ducks paddling between surfaces,
Sailing towards the sun in salutation,
Sailing towards a perennial ritual,
To a ritual that tethers us against our will.
There’s a girl running up the bridge,
Her polyester coat is making a sideway sweep
Against the wind.
A guardian in fur follows from behind,
Her eyes on the young.
Our girl has crossed the bridge,
Beckoning the fur to make real haste.
The fur has stopped to stare,
Holding the journey to a standstill,
Holding the future to an ambivalent past.
A tear is heavier than a severed leaf,
A sigh lighter than the crash of cymbals.
When asked my home address,
I respond with a sigh,
And watch severed leaves land on dormant grounds.
I left without a lover’s smell in my hair,
Without memories of my mother’s hug.
The passage home is burnt and that I regret.
A kiss recalled is adolescence restored,
Life remounted for another flight.
Amnesia is the burden of growth,
Of which I am a square instance.
Memory is a pinch and not the whole,
An aftertaste without a meal.
I remember the tongue and not the kiss,
The resistance of breasts and not the hug.
I write this day in fog,
Knowing it will fade to not return.
Dear Mother, it’s another day here,
Another night, I mean to say.
It’s a dance of darkness, Mother,
And it takes two to do the bleak waltz,
Hips grinding blindly, legs leisurely shuffling
Until sweat breaks forth;
Until the cheer of gloom, the shrouded daylight,
Is shredded in forgettable bits.
May this silence unease you, Mother,
May those absent calls,
The phone hanging obese on the wall,
But I prefer this to a thousand funerals.
Or which is best, Mother?
This, or the confused colors
Of spiteful mourners?
I come from a place where roads lead nowhere, to graves,
The wind an impractical joke that blows askance,
Rising from the soles of our feet,
Uprooting us before our first human steps;
Where children run homes and plough the fields,
And dogs walk the living through death’s orchard.
These we mention in passing:
At the wedding of a thrice-removed niece,
At a dance for abandoned gods.
The world hangs by the toes, dangling,
And its head bulges with blood, a burst as imminent
As the next shot in daylight.
We are told he stopped at twenty-one,
Our Rimbaud, having gathered what we all envy.
Then he left his home and invaded mine,
That adventurer I begrudge not.
Ash and Ashbery shared a stand,
Catalogued and shelved as one,
A minor logistic that assumed significance
As I hunted the latter but fell for both,
A treat I shindiged with a loud sucking
Of Turkish delight, recontexting
Myself in Ash’s words:
“Think of yourself as open. Equally hard.
Usually your gestures seem to take place
[Behind] a glass partition, fogged with steam”
A pony is purchased for a lad who hasn’t said a word
Since his tongue lay itself for normal speech.
I see him galloping through green earth,
His smile a cover for speech,
His dimples as deep as mine.
But here’s the deal as I’m told:
Dreams are embers in a December night,
Dying into senseless flakes at the hearth,
Useless save the past they color when we sleep.
The coloring is grim at times:
Constipated nights and all,
The peristaltic push and passage painfully hindered,
The hinds of a horse stuck to a haunted carriage,
And dawn dispiritingly delayed.
“I have a lover of flesh,” Day-Lewis says.
Mine used to be fresh, I say, but is now no more,
A country with boundaries made of straw,
A loveless sprawl dispersed by the wind,
Her seeds sprinkled away for birds to pick.
There is a Whitman in everyone, I say.
Rebellion relies on language, I say,
And so does a joke that falls on all,
Including the bystander whose isolation
Is geographic and linguistic.
Power resides in the pinny of a maid:
Fanon in the polish of the master’s shoe,
And Foucault in the politics of his son’s stare.
They will survive this flare,
And the boil will blister into a new brew,
For a stone tossed in a lake must be left to tumble down
To the bottom, and there, patted by currents,
It will fathom its float to shore,
Or waltz its way to a safe corner to rise again,
Or stay beneath, contented with death.
Mother, keep your hands on the plough.
Study the stars for signs and songs.
Keep away from the thalassic trader,
Away from his vessel and gunpowder.
Guard your borders and be bothered by unusual winds.
Dance when aroused by wine,
The trance thereafter enjoy.
Set forth and set sail in your own vessel.
Write your sights and handshakes afar.
Leave me nothing but a chest-load of papyrus.
In my sleep I float near sooted chimneys
And smell smoke rising from the mass
Of idle bodies, from the hoof
Of roaming nomads kicking and stomping
Through this land.
In the leprous hands of a life I once lived.
Cradled, I smell the crisp rise
Of smoke, an ascendance
That becomes me leaving the scale
Of memory, leaving the shell that cocoons me
From where waters run against pebbles,
Upstream, washing up against my umbilical cord
Long buried between shrubs
Where weeds spring daily,
Waiting for dawn-dew that never comes,
Waiting for sunlight obscured by an August cloud.
In this colossal space, curled up between posts,
My bed and I, the panes bleed the slime
Of winter, dribbling down like okra whisked for effect.
I recoil between posts, my bed and I,
As nothing here, in this novel patch,
Equals the roast of corncobs at home.
It is now threatening to snow, and this greyness,
The utter blankness of haze and leafless trees
Removes me from me, layer after layer,
To where the marrows yield
And the shivers begin.
I rattle like gongs in Ogume,
The ancestral home I cannot reclaim,
That’s now a farfetched note I pluck for effect.
The flakes are visible from here.
God must be at work.
The spaces without are rather concealed
And made dark by the utter whiteness
Of grains descending in place
God must be at work as they say
In a place I once lived,
Where the daily ritual
Of cocks at dawn,
And the heroic leap
Of lizards from treetops,
Are God’s fingers reaching down
To stroke our thighs.
A silhouette is taking shape
On my window pane,
The shape is surprisingly sensual,
With smooth suggestive lines,
With arousing curves.
And this pervasion I could not have conjured
Without those fingers that descend
To stroke my thighs.
Timothy Ogene is the author of a collection of poems (Descent: Deerbrook Editions, 2016) and has recently completed his first novel. His poems and stories have appeared in One Throne Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, Tahoma Literary Review, The Missing Slate, Stirring, Kin Poetry Journal, Mad Swirl, Blue Rock Review, and other places. He holds degrees from St. Edwards and Oxford Universities, and currently lives in Boston.