Mudlark No. 106 (2016)

The Trembling Skin of the World
Six Poems by John Valentine

Bean Field

Making the earth say beans instead of grass.
                                                     — Thoreau
Cultivation, yes. By dawn
and sunlight sweep. By hoe

and hand. Holy labor, acre
by ancient acre. Indian land

once. Seeing neighbors now
and then from town. Advice:

manure in the rows. Puzzlement:
this is how you live? All the

gestures of man received,
graciously returned. And how

the weeds protested! How they
objected to order. Geometry

of the woods. Clear the eye,
see the truth. Only truth. Plant

the pulses. In time, that crop,
that risen crop, was you. 

Hands, Rise Up!

How strange it seemed that so,
so long, old friends, you’d risen

only for the ordinary, the usual
chores, your wizened grip wearing

the gloves of what must be done.
The needful, your dull salutes.

How you wandered, lost, in the
pale thicket of the known. And I

as well, the bearer of no beautiful
songs. Two of a kind, you and I.

Weary. Until that stir, that gypsy
stir, those pure and pregnant

roses birthing everywhere all at once
their nurseries, rouged and redolent.

And how you stirred as if from sleep.
How you lifted, not toward pen or

poem, but speechless, toward touch,
like a loving mother, feeling your

way through light, caressing the silken
sheen, the trembling skin of the world.

In Praise of Hatred

Hate is much maligned in the 
shadows of the soul, the root

cellars of revenge. The way it
eclipses everywhere the light.

Stains the whiteness of the world.
How it gnaws. What glorious

focus, though, what purpose it
brings. Do you not tremble,

vibrate in the chill? Quiver with
delight? When have you felt

more alive? Isn’t it like the clarity
of delirium. The hot iron, the

slap. Roused, you go forth with
your army of demons. Missions

of malpractice. Even the angels
shiver. Even Death, indifferent

and eternal, takes notice. Even
he stands, nods, and stays

your appointed time a little longer,
just a little bit longer.

How the Past Comes Back

I see how the past holds us captive,
its beautiful ruin etched on the mind’s eye.
                               — Natasha Trethewey
You have to imagine it
falsely, the truth of

confusion and dream, night
riders calling your name

vaguely, that muttering
in the wind. You want to say

you remember, faces like
quick moments of lightning,

then gone, darkness all around,
erasure, memory like a

blurring rain. And all around you
mist, equivocation. The riders wild

and wide-eyed as they rush away,
back toward a road you’ll never find.   

Even Dust Can Burst To Flames

At the tomb of Rilke
Restive roots, mnemonics of earth
and soul. Wind whispers the way.

Nothing ever ends. That spirit,
waiting. Those words, stirring,

like embers. Everything returns.
The circle sweep of time. The

dead will rise in sunlight and
shadow. Every birth a promise.

Green can never die. Wait, now,
wait. Lay your head upon the ground.

Listen. Even grass can speak. Even
dirt resounds in song. Be patient.

Even dust can burst to flames. 

Sobibor, 1945

Look at the soot on a white background.
		                       — Daniela Danz
Snow, like a lie of purity. A shroud.
Nothing left. No scattered teeth. Or

glasses. No ragged shoes. Everything
erased by the moonlit machine. Soldiers

scrubbing memory, the walls. Shadows
of spirit. Bone crushers. The frantic

efficiency. While far away, up high,
beyond the smoke, the sky said:

Enough. Some souls have to come back.
Some ashes. Look closer now. A

palimpsest. Traces of flesh. An old
blood painting. Handprint of a scream.

See the soot. The white background.
Before everything disappears. 

John Valentine teaches philosophy at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. His poems have appeared in various journals, including The Sewanee Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, The Adirondack Review and Rock Salt Plum Review. He has had five chapbooks published with Pudding House Publications and one chapbook with Big Table Publishing.

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