—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove
Rock River runs almost diagonally
Across central Illinois from the
Wisconsin border to the
Mississippi at Moline.
It’s a small stream, but
Had a reputation for
Being dangerous. “Many
A man has misjudged
The Rock, and paid
dearly,” my father
Would intone, gazing
Out at the river after
A few Canadian Mists.
Presumably women knew
Enough to be careful
On the Rock, or stay
Away from it altogether.
But it did have its perils:
Strange currents, odd eddies,
Snags, and endless swirling
Mud. To say nothing of
Strange sounds from the
Woods along the banks—
Supposedly Black Hawk’s
People, wailing over
Their stolen lands, but
More likely people whose
Families had lived
For generations along
The shore and wanted,
For whatever reasons,
None of this stopped
My scout troop from
Making its annual canoe
Trip down the Rock.
We weren’t actually the
Scouts from Hell: they
Were they guys across
Town. But we did reduce
Our scoutmaster to tears
With some regularity.
Most of the time it was
Little Tommy who did it.
Six-foot-seven and 245
At fifteen years old he ran
A roulette game in a back
Tent at camp. Because
He could. First he’d
Take your money, then
Your badges. He was
An Eagle many times over.
Second night out on the Rock,
Little Tommy decided
He was tired of freeze-dried
Beef stew, was going into
The nearest town for dinner
And that I was going with him.
On the way, we passed
The scoutmaster’s tent.
It had been a difficult day
(There were no easy ones
On the Rock, or with
Troop 80 for that matter),
And he was catching a nap
Before the beef stew.
Little Tommy deftly relieved
The scoutmaster of his full-grain
Leather, lovingly laced and stamped
Wallet from last summer camp.
“Did I just see that?” I gasped.
“He wasn’t using it,” Little Tommy
Assured, “I’ll put it back.”
Green Rock, on the Rock, had
One restaurant. The Maid-Rite,
And if you don’t know, I can’t
Explain it to you. Little Tommy
Had just finished two each of
What the place had to offer:
Maid-Rites, fries, tenderloins,
A shake and a cherry Coke when
The scoutmaster wondered in.
Patting himself down: “I think
I lost my wallet.” Little Tommy
Brushed some leaves off the man’s
Red Philmont Ranch vest, said “Don’t
Worry, it’ll turn up,” and ordered
The scoutmaster two Maid-Rites
And a large chocolate malt.
SEEING YOU AS THROUGH A JOHN ADAMS ALBUM JUST HEARD
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
What timbre is the tenor of obsession?
Today, I play John Adams just to love you:
his music the song of motoric intercession
winged down from heaven saintly just to shove you
off your accustomed falcon-perch into the clear
smog of intense aliveness. Must I repent
knowing you? Am I not harmless? Au contraire:
I listen to Wild Nights’ encipherment,
frenzy in architecture, Dickinson
the excuse for volplaning choral corybantics,
some pinched from Berlioz’s Les Troyens,
and hear my passion in Adams, idée fixe
whipped to a mechanistic whirr, all tics…
Has it come to this, my disposition antic?
How long have you been my fugue, my obbligato,
my cello cantabile beneath the steam-
punk’s hammering brass, relentless worldly staccato?
How often my palindrome, my contrapuntal theme,
my naked angel, my stainless enthymeme?
What splinters you under remorseless ostinato
to fragments of your radiant, original sweet gleam?
What haven’t I projected onto you
—my homeliness onto your loveliness
(don’t worry: it can’t possibly stick to you),
my tenderness onto your flightiness,
which is only to say, your rapture, ardor
for everything and anyone? The harder
I try to pin the image of me inside
my image of you inside your image of you,
the less I’m sure of holding you even a moment.
Then let you go ahead in your upward glide,
my lost one, is the thought I need to convey to you.
It’s time for seething to cease and not to foment
more turbulence and moil; maudlin besides,
unworthy of you for so many reasons.
I wanted to aid your seeing words on the page
more sharply, clearly. But those rivers of white
distortion, piercing black fields of saxifrage;
those dark Saxon littorals haloed with bitter light;
all things of my imagining…rivers of doubt.
When dubious currents have swept me long since to sea,
how can I ever set you, my free one, free?
Harmonielehre…that heavenly long long slow portion
set gemlike within terrifying movement 1, achingly Romantic
suspension upon suspension, till the chords yearn into the void,
aching and swelling with white white ounces of lifestuff
against the void, and, like Whitman’s noiseless
patient spider, the chord-threads shoot out, exquisite
half-dissonances resting at last (those ductile anchors held!)
culminant upon a trumpet-splendid C major, dominant
seventh blissing sexually, and only then sinking
in a bath of chromatic scales bass and treble convergent
and beautifully lost in music the one universal
woe-solvent, all this bliss the wonder of you
who know these San Francisco musicians deep
inside your lovely face, your gangsta youngster strength of ear…
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
There are underground rivers,
relics of ancient upheavals and slump,
dried-up sunken aquifers whispering
to weather above the surface, and sink-
holes in between; storm-drains,
sewage-pipes. This yellowed map
sketches what might be an old water-
line but drawn without compass
or sun-angle. Dahlia-dark sheen-rivers
of taint, runoff cleansing itself
through dirt. Broken lines of hyphens,
ellipses in what we thought
we knew. I hold two bent coat-hangers
in my hands; they pull and waver
as if to tell me something. But
I just can’t interpret what they say.
WINTERS OF WORDS
She set down the manuscript.
So many words—
were any of them true?
And on the TV, stanzas of gibberish
not sung but shouted.
In the garden, a tiny toad
hopped through what was prodigally
left of lemon balm
as if seeking his Summer’s