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Poetry by Benjamin Morris

Imagining the Death of my Father on the Pascagoula River

No Tengo Mas

Silhouette in D

Postojnska Jama, Slovenia


Not Coming to New York: A Letter

Imagining the Death of my Father on the Pascagoula River

Sometimes I think his truck will backfire,
so that you will be able to hear him
and answer the door. Other times I think
he will come silently, so not to disturb
the catfish in the weedbed, and he will sit
with you a while on the skiff and maybe drop a line
into the water too. He will not catch anything,
because not even death could coax those old cats up.
I see him living on a houseboat like the others,
evading his taxes and slicing open his hands
on the bright scales of his dinner. I see him
looking up from checkers to wave at you
on the bayou. He will walk in the woods with you,
hear the wild hog grunting; you will show him
how to break Catawba worms in half like celery,
then thread them inside out so the bream
will smell them sooner. When he returns home
he will tell your mother you still remember how.
He will trim your azaleas in the evening,
then sit in your chair as you practice the trumpet;
he will daub your bloody lips upon his sleeve.
Yes, this is how death must arrive on the river:
like the eyes of the alligator, slipping smooth as shadow
into the summer air, watching, watching the dog.

No Tengo Mas

She's rolling me a cigarette
as I’m watching you dance.
For a time, nothing else matters:
not the smoke, the beer,
and the glowing crowd, the bass
quivering in the corner, not even
his hands, snaked around your waist.
There is only the air parting itself
for your steps, the shadows enfolding you
like a gift to evening. I think
the singer knows this, somehow,
slipping into a minor key
as smoothly as a car slips into gear,
radiant as though she has just come
from a birth, or an exorcism, something
words can only gesture feebly towards.
Your hips, for instance, their smoke
and gravity around which his hands,
for a moment, are my own.
The cigarette is lit but I barely notice it.
The song wanes on, in a language
I don’t even speak, and there is
a kind of order to things–
until the bass finally melts away,
and his hands linger just a bar too long,
when I want to step forward,
claim your body belongs to no hand
but the melody, as much as
I might wish otherwise.

Silhouette in D
(after Norman MacCaig)

At last the arbitrary carnal joy
of lighting a cigarette off the hob.
Long shadows and longer winds
tonight, as the flickering cabs slip

swiftly to their dark destinations. Blame
them? For stalking me down the avenue
as a ragged lady does in the aisle
of the supermarket, where I choose

rice cakes over crumbed Wiltshire lamb
because I fear and love how much
I am like her? Hardly. Time totters on
in her gleaming heels, as if such

absurd prevarications were meant
to convince those she presides over
that they are where they want to be,
in the arms of a child, a mind, a lover.

Postojnska Jama, Slovenia

I still have it, somewhere,
that photograph, buried now

in a desk with its face
to the back of some other

recollection. In it, things
are boiled down to a broth:

a boy stands on the lip of a cave,
looks back, finds no one,

looks forward, finds nothing.
Thinking of it now, I don’t know

whether to call it luck
or maybe something swifter

that this shot from the hip
turned out, crouched in the middle

of a roll of ochre rooftops
and the dragons on the Ljubljanica.

But how many times since then
have I wanted that scene

to return: a boy melting into
the shadows, the shadows

limned by a boy–a plea
for allegory, like a man

setting aside a newspaper
on a train–so I could hold it

in the arms of my eyes
and say: Listen. You are not

who you came here to be.
And then, as he always does,

the boy would slip beneath
those waters of darkness,

bubbles rising thickly to the surface
like the first unasked-for pulse of a poem.


We've tried this before, sitting down
with a few weak coffees to write
a poem or two in a few weak hours.
The last time we were here, you sat across
from me, eyeing that booth with the Hopper
prints above it, both of us publicly hoping

that he would eventually give up hope
and set his crumpled coins down
on the table and leave–not Hopper,
that is, but the man who was writing
what looked like a puzzle of some kind. A cross-
word? An anagram promising untold hours

of mental gymnastics? Well, an hour
passed and by the end we were hoping
he'd stay–he bore his sadness like a cross
on his back, and we didn’t want him to set it down.
Who knew that such a simple thing, writing,
could bring you so near and so far all at once? Not Hopper.

Never wrote a word in his life, except to Mrs Hopper,
little love notes which she lost again an hour
after finding them. Hardly any of his figures write,
either, although all his readers may be secretly hoping
to one day set their books and newspapers down
and pick up their Montblanc, or their Cross,

and scatter words and phrases like leaves across
the snow. (That was James' metaphor for it, but Hopper
never read James–would have gotten even more down
than he already was, if that were possible.) How are
your poems doing, I suddenly wonder, hoping
you'll show me. But no. As I glance over your writing

closes into itself, closes me off. This writing
thing, it's new to you, like a lover turned cross,
like the lover that you know I keep hoping
I'll be. –And there's the turn. No turns in Hopper.
No time. It's art, after all. It can't let you down.
Aren't we the only ones that tell time in hours?

Not Coming to New York: A Letter
for Michael and Gloria

Last night an old teacher took me out
for Italian. I held the door while his wife's
wheelchair clicked on the tile; inside,
they saw old neighbors, an Indian couple,
not seen in years. How's your health,
my teacher said. Can't complain, the man said,
and looked down at Louise. How's yours.

Each day at five it rains for twenty minutes–
you could set your clocks to it, as people
used to do with Kant on his daily walks.
Old Kant. I wonder if he too passed ducks
whose feet fold up inside them, if he too
carried stolen crackers. I wish I were coming:
I miss the highway and the way it lubricates thought,
I miss the way we all forget Manhattan is an island.
(William tells me that forgetting is a requirement
for remembering; otherwise we'd have to listen
to the score of our memories in the same time it took
to compose it.) But there's the novel, and money,
always money. Be well for me while I’m gone.
I'm reading James Salter. In Hass’ poem
of this name the word is going, not coming.

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