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About this poet

Mark Wagenaar is the author of Bone Willows (Red Hen Press, 2018) and The Body Distances (A Hundred Blackbirds Rising), (University of Massachusetts Press, 2016). He teaches at Valparaiso University and lives in Valparaiso, Indiana. 

Salt Furnace (Southern Reliquaries)

IT'S A BRAND NEW DAY, the greasy spoon’s sign
has recited each day for the last ten years.

Eighteen-wheelers haul their hundred hands of empty space
through an air hallowed by the smoke of a thousand-acre grass fire.

New roads take on the shape of the old
the way rivers tongue the drowned, eternal rush hour,
eternal city:

beneath the floodlights on the side of the highway
the blue eye of the welder’s torch snaps
open, a circular saw spins—disk galaxy, roulette wheel
if the ball’s skipping through the working hours

                                                                            of the rest of their lives—
then bites into concrete,
                                      teeth through stone.

*

Mouthful of cinders,
the earth has begun to reel back
its lines of chlorophyll.
Birch shadows walk on their toes on their way
to nowhere. Bark strips skiff from the sycamores,
                                                                             pale coracles,
& set off into the world. Through a screen of falling
rust-shot leaves it’s hard to tell the planes from the planets,
but I know one is Flight 90, where last week a man
confided that he’s collected over twenty thousand Pillsbury Doughboy dolls.

I tried to remember the name of the horn player
who used to play a club for a plate of spaghetti—something about being in between
cities, in between lives & hours,
had left me otherwise wordless, with nothing else to offer,

with nothing more to say about need—

*

except, once, I rounded a corner & came face-to-face
with a naked woman behind a door of glass.
                                                                     I saw her
everywhere I went the next few days.
Each time I saw myself in a window, in the canal below.
I read a billboard a mile from the glass door: VOODOO INVERSO:

BEFORE LEAVING NIGERIA, THIS TRAFFICKER TRICKED ME
WITH A FAKE VOODOO CEREMONY. I WAS VERY FRIGHTENED.

WHEN I STOPPED PAYING, THEY SENT SOMEONE TO THE VILLAGE
AND CRUSHED MY FATHER'S LEGS. NOW I TURN THE VOODOO BACK ON HIM . . .

Ten thousand days into my life, Lord, & not one more promised.
Ten thousand days & I’ve nothing

*

to say in light
of the overpass fire in front of me,
a salt furnace

except its only output
is flame & ashes upon the air.

You can take ten thousand steps & get no nearer to heaven,
someone once said, but the smoke

is halfway there. If the overpass is a temple,
it’s a Parthenon blueprinted
                                            by the stars
that are now fading overhead,
one dedicated to elsewhere,
                                            that negative mirror,
a thousand times more air than concrete, more not there
than there: a dozen pillars & a cement roof,

nameless place you only know by the places
you’re on the way to: a via negativa

of every place you’ve been. If the ashes on the air
are inch-long vanishing points of veils,
this temple had a million.

And I’ll be its augur. Already I can see the bouquets
& votives left there for its priestess, still buckled

in her burning Corolla, her name unremembered everywhere.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Wagenaar. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Wagenaar. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.

Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar is the author of Bone Willows (Red Hen Press, 2018).

by this poet

poem
There’s no right word for the color of the ashes,
 
you said at the New Orleans hospice—
every week a new urn carried out
& poured into the nameless garden.
 
Maybe it’s true. And maybe,
just there through the fog,
this
poem

I’d have to hear it spoken in mind somehow,
my father said, of the Frisian word for hunger,
but I’d settle for memory, or grief, under
the category things that undo me. It’s a funny
thing to think. Who would be the speaker
if not him? His mother, maybe,

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