Karen Saunders

What did you know of the world then?
Men rifling over crags, spilling lead
into the guts of men, the heads of soldiers
killed in the gnawed-grass hills
making their debut in the Time-Life books,
hewed at the nape and stuck like apples
on fences made to keep the goats in,
the eyes still open, reflecting the constant sea.
And what of the world after that?
The impassioned dash of sunlight
across the sea, the trawls unfastening
their loads, fish drowning in air,
the long clouds stiffening
along the horizon like burnt-sienna wings,
jonquils parting their ludicrous soft mouths.
Sometimes a man does not live long enough
to forget the burdens of the iris.
The pier nudges the river's skin,
a lover quivering against another
in the half-wit light. The lampposts
along the bridge hang in the river
like the ribs of a great marlin.
The Potomac drenches the moon's twin.
This night all is open. Even the fish
have forgotten their wet dungeon.
They are fluid bats soaring
through the belly of darkness.
Sexless life: how seldom I have seen
this moon  this pier  this bridge  these flying fish.
In the courtyard, tomatoes redden in the darkness, losing their musk
to the olive-heavy breeze. The night is empty of sound
but for the Aegean fumbling through the hollows of Samos
and a pair of mules panicking at the cliff's edge. Nights like this
the loudest sounds may be the ones in your head:
seven pomegranate seeds spiraling to the realm of the dead,
the boiling and splintering of the earth's terrible core. O,
to be mortal, to enjoy the promise of an end, to feel just once
the pomegranate's acid boring a new hole in your body
as your merry fruit is plucked early from the vine.
For years we have waited for him, surrounded
by swaths of Spanish moss and the musk of jasmine
opening itself in darkness. So practiced are we
at watching the wishing-stars pattern the sky each night
that we could ignite the universe ourselves, star by star.
We have learned to wait, not to expect. But by chance
tonight he has come, offering up twelve years of remorse
from a worn tin flask, shadowless and not without shame.
Moonlight has made him abundant--filling the holes
in his pockets, smoothing the whiskey trails on his brow.
He stands erect and newly faultless, someone's temporary god.
Mother lunges toward him as a widow toward a shape
resembling that of the man she lost. Me, I wait
as I have always done, elbows deep in bayou grit,
watching the gathering stars choke the bewildered sky.
The hailstorm's colorless echo, rainwater swarming
into the sunken drain, tiny footfalls into the earth's core.
Sirens howling their scarlet elegy through the neighborhood.
Parents opening and closing their mouths like doors unhinged.
The rafters in the smoke-blue house across the street
still creaking under the noose and its keen load.
That low moan the street makes when it is less one child
like slow wind across a meadow empty of sun and cattle.

Karen Saunders
Karen Saunders has been writing poetry since childhood, although this is her first submission for publication.  She holds a double BA in Russian Language and Literature and International Relations from Tufts University, and a master's degree in International Development from American University in Washington, DC.  She is fluent in Russian and lived in Moscow and St. Petersburg for two years in the early 1990s.  Most recently, she worked at a Washington-area research center on transnational crime and corruption, for which she traveled extensively throughout Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union.  She lives in Kensington, MD, with her husband and their two young sons.



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