Poetry by Benjamin Sines
I started smoking again. You stood on the porch
with the shotgun, holding it in such a way that
you might leave & take summer with you. Now the heat
breaks earlier every morning, dew
gathers on the moving trucks. John wanted to leave
after the last harvest, but we are leaving now,
leaving the farm & the mountains & the shotgun
no one moved after you dropped it. John wears your
old coveralls, but he looks so small in them, so thin,
a bundle of wasted wood bound with twine. He loads
boxes like he has no thoughts, shouting at Raymond
carry more weight! Stop crying. One night John muttered
this canvas smells like Clarence; he was drunk
& didn’t know I could hear. Every day the house
fills with kin who don’t care if they pick over your
things like bones. I can’t sleep, so I watch rainwater
drip from the eaves, watch the mountains exhale fog in trees.
It looks like smoke. I like to think of the mountains,
smoldering in dawn light like green wood brought to flame.
I like to think I’m like the mountains,
hard & eternal & breathing smoke.
The frog-eyed bartender nods.
Now my glass fills; red lights twinkle.
Drunk in the dark, shrouded in smoke,
my seat anchors me. Twisted and tinny,
music floats from sources unseen.
The bartender turns his back on my babble,
scribbles something on his pad, paws
the register. Cling! A gaggle of young ones
cackle like geese, something I did?
Check your balance – flex your feet, stiff as hooves.
The woman next to me licks
her glass with a giraffe-long tongue.
The man next to her blinks
his lemur-dark eyes. In the bar mirror,
someone behind me lights
a cigarette, bony claws and a snake’s
hooded eyes. The door opens.
My owl-neck swivels as a draft
disturbs the settled opaque haze,
outside moonlight pools like gold.
I didn’t know about our son until I came home
to find he had your eyes and my hair. I can’t stop
leaving things undone. I wrote you letters all the time,
but wouldn’t post them for days, or not at all.
They were bad letters, all of them, hasty and guilty,
with nothing really said.
I don’t know what I did the day you died,
the day Raymond fell into John’s hands,
but let’s say I woke in the cold morning
to heat a heavy pot for soup while everyone slept.
I tried to think about my banjo, about the women
upstairs who spoke German in their sleep, anything
other than the men I killed
without thinking about their fathers.
TO CLARENCE ON OPENING DAY
I know why I looked away – it was the blood.
Raymond strung the deer from a glittering tree:
he knows you are his father and this morning
will sharpen in his mind like ice.
He never once punctured the fluid membranes,
removed the bulbous sacks of tissue better
than you showed him and he doesn’t need my help
to snap the pelvis anymore.
My glasses stuck to my face with nervous sweat
when the deer brushed against slowly freezing leaves
and Raymond exhaled and fired. You said hunting
lives in your blood, so you should know Raymond
had his first kill today.
RAYMOND AT QUARTERBACK
In his last game, Raymond turned
to break a tackle with his head;
shouts leapt out around him
& he crumpled like paper.
It was the first autumn he knew
Clarence was his father.
In his last game, Raymond never
missed a pass. In the huddle, his team
pounded his pads & drove their fists high.
Every ball dropped neatly
to the sprinting receivers,
their hands outstretched in offering.
Play after play like this until both coaches
threw up hands in disbelief – praying
in thanks or begging some god
to stop the power Raymond held.
Benjamin Sines lives in New Orleans with his wife and cat. He writes poetry and watches the Saints.