One Time Only
by Todd Copeland

Special Effects

Wasn’t it enough that we showed up
almost on time each day?
We straightened his striped tie
and sent him out ahead of us
to be sociable. We made an effort,
sometimes, to do something
resembling honest work,
but more than our heart just not
being in it, our mind was miles away
in la-la land, out in space where we
zipped past Jupiter’s Galilean moons,
rapidly approaching the speed of light.

Student Body Right

Our deportment left much to be desired.

For starters, we slouched
when we thought no one was looking,
forgetting they have cameras
that catch everything.

Secondly, our mouth often moved
when we read. And then
there was that look in our eyes,
a duplicity as calamitous as a flash flood
or a tornado or a tsunami or a mudslide.

Finally, our hand was too plain.

We knew we needed to look the part,
adopt the mien of an unstoppable force
or risk being left to die alone.

A man’s rootage means more
than his leafage,
President Woodrow Wilson said.
Easy for him to say, being leafy.

What He Sought in the Forms He Created
Was an Irresistible and Inexhaustible Joy

He was drawn to the decorum
of short lines in trim stanzas.

Sometimes what the words meant
mattered less than the eye’s journey
through quatrains linked
like the small towns along Highway 6
going northwest from town:
Valley Mills, Clifton,
Meridian, Hico, Dublin.

He shared the ancient Greeks’ cast of mind,
drawn to an exactitude of form
irresistible in its perfection.

He dreamed of his poems
setting sail like an argosy.

And Then Darkness Overcame Him

The supposedly smart dogs next door
barked nonstop. For two days straight,
there were clouds that looked
like Teddy Roosevelt’s face.

Everything was vice versa.
No one knew what to do.
We settled into inertia as if into old armchairs
and let chance perform the heavy work.

We sounded like complete strangers to one another,
employed the subjunctive mood,
felt like loose change.

People always say don’t look down,
but it’s worse to look up,
where you’ll see what happens to hope
in near space
and to the sense of self beyond.

Still Life

Distant mountains called to us.
So distant they couldn’t be seen.
So mountainous as to be monolithic.

The distance between here and there
seemed incalculable.

A call so loud it verged on noise.
An us so us we got confused
and wondered aloud if we were rock.

We looked for him everywhere
to gain his perspective but learned
he’d given up being a people-pleaser
and had gone solo to Sri Lanka for the month.
They said his face was inscrutable,
his brows like diacritical marks
above the blue vowels of his eyes.

The mountains were not green.
We were not feeling ourselves.
The calling was incessant, 
driving us to cover our ears.

Like it or not, they said,
you have to live in this world—
in person and for one time only.

Todd Copeland’s poems have appeared in The Journal, Southern Poetry Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, California Quarterly, The Dalhousie Review, Christianity & Literature, and Columbia Poetry Review, and his essays have been published in Literary Imagination, JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory, and Media, War & Conflict, among other publications. A native of Ohio, he lives in Waco, Texas.

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