Mudlark Poster No. 121 (2014)

by Jim Daniels

String, January, Pittsburgh | Solstice With Raspberry
Daffodils | Lament In Early March | Middle Ages

String, January, Pittsburgh

Trudging beside me through snow 
up Flagstaff Hill, my six-going-on-
seven-year-old daughter says she likes 
my sledding laugh and why don’t you laugh more?
We’ve just descended on our rickety toboggan,
snow spraying up crystal joy. 

Today I wrote the new year for the first time. 
My son asked my age and measured my foot 
with string. Two neighbors still Christmas-lit. 
Our tree, planted in snow, waits for garbage day. 
Tomorrow maybe I’ll measure my life with string.
Cut the string and tape it to a piece of paper. 
Or floss with it or use it as a bookmark. 
Empty my jar of pennies into the bank’s machine. 
Count each of my wife’s footsteps as a heartbeat. 
This morning, I garbage-picked an old metal desk 
for my children. It weighed more than my entire
family. I wheeled it into the garage on our red wagon. 
I can’t lift it into the house. I’ll wait for a friend 
to visit. A big friend. Yesterday, a big old friend I saw 

back in Detroit at Christmas wrote, “I wish we were still
sitting around the table talking...” Sometimes I live on ellipses 
and the rotten music of my youth. We’d debated the merits 
of Dylan’s new album, just like thirty years ago, as our kids 
disappeared into the safe basement of their actual childhoods.

They put on a puppet show for us with paper bags. 
We discussed the French-Indian War, internet stigmata, 
and drugs we never had the nerve or chance to try. 

My daughter likes my sledding laugh. It’s all downhill, 
so why pretend to steer? You can’t just promise
to laugh more and have it happen. A string of lights. 
The heart’s ellipses connected with a piece of string. 

Solstice With Raspberry

Remember the second s in solstice.
Remember the p in raspberry.
The first summer window opens with all
the nervous drama of an obscene puppet show.

My daughter’s drawing of the sun 
alternating orange and yellow rays
anchors the solar system across four sheets of paper
curling away from the kitchen wall.

Last night I turned off the floodlight 
and saw the first firefly ever in my backyard
at 3419 Parkview Ave. in Pittsburgh. 
It flashed in the city’s half darkness. 

One elusive light. Joy briefly catchable.
I said hey with all sincerity.
My young daughter sings the opera 
of her awakening. I envy her sudden 

unspellable joy. Yesterday she asked me 
What’s the matter? Worry’s unpronounced 
letters drift into dust motes.  What do young birds
have to say about the heart’s perfect misspellings,

the lure of ripeness? This morning my daughter  
picks the season’s first red raspberry 
and drops it on my cereal. 
The solar system shudders.


“It sounds like what you’re supposed to say when you have that kind of problem.”
— Cannonball Adderley, Introduction to Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
You hope the sax will be rising 
from the rich black dirt of the music

to roll up the collars of the dead
with the glare of life,

rise from funky backbeat,
soar into soul froth 

overflowing, picking today 
out of its hat

and calling out the lucky number
to gray rainy March skies

oh mercy mercy mercy.

Lament In Early March

Dirty snow dwindles curbside,
the lost currency of muted anger.

Where’s the music, the moon
wants to know. But we’re deaf

down here, banging our rusty snow shovels
against cement to feel vibrations. 

Raw trash unearthed by thaw 
maps the street with curses. 

We sink the heavy stones of our feet 
into spongy earth. We sigh. 

Give us a week or two. Give us budding trees 
and something to bury our noses in. 

Today, it’s the grim life of unbelievers. 
Gray and sudden rain. Bare branches

stutter in the wind. Winter’s story stuck 
in our cold craw, dissolving slow in shadow. 

Inside, the furnace gasps to life. 
We are not deaf.

The moon’s woe is me
a tune we can hum.

Middle Ages

Last night I got out of bed 
to find my son on the stairs in the dark
looking for me. He couldn’t sleep,
was hoping I’d still be up. 

Last week, I quizzed my son 
on the Middle Ages before his test. 
We need more illuminated manuscripts, 
I told him. And fewer lies.

Yesterday, the wall of wind
on the bridge over Panther Hollow
stung me into walking backward
with my eyes closed. It pressed me

against the railing. A family of ducks swam 
in the half-frozen pond below. December. 
The golden panthers tarnished with chill
at the end of the bridge. How can we 

go nowhere and everywhere 
at the same time? That’ll keep you up. 
Where did that little black spot come from 
on the bridge, the one that whispered jump?  

Wind rushed unhindered up the crease 
of the hollow. Will the pond freeze over, 
enough to skate on? Then where will
the ducks go?

I have no magic dust, I told him, my hand 
on his shoulder as I led him back to bed. 
Climbing up the dark stairs, I pressed my feet hard  
to hear the creaking. I felt my son’s tender bones.

Some day he will never find me.

Jim Daniels’ fourteenth book of poems, Birth Marks, was published by BOA Editions in 2013. It was selected as a Michigan Notable Book, won the Milton Kessler Poetry Book Award, and received the Gold Medal in Poetry at the Independent Publisher Book Awards. His fifth book of short fiction, Eight Mile High, was published by Michigan State University Press in 2014. A native of Detroit, Daniels is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.

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