Jack Granath is a librarian in Kansas City, Kansas. He has a B.A. in Film
Studies and English from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in Library
Science from the University of Missouri. He was a regular contributor to
the Rain Taxi Review of Books for the first two years of its run. His
poetry has also appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Anterior Poetry
Coal City Review, Iambs & Trochees, The Mid-America Poetry Review and Pivot.
Down two flights of iron steps
Into the grim, undusted deeps
Of some unsalvageably dreary
Sub-basement of a library—
Now I know why women are cautioned
Not to come here uncompanioned:
The shadows hang as if from meat hooks
Against the banks of forgotten books,
And in one skulking-spot I find
A bottle of roach-killer wine,
A needle, and a crumpled page
Of joyless porn. This hermitage
For cast-offs, runaways, and wrecks,
With its dank smell of desperate sex,
Serves the purpose of my mood,
Ensuring me my solitude.
The books themselves do not invite.
Nevertheless, I browse a bit—
Long habit, and a foolish one.
What malefactions of the pen!
Has he been thanked who gave the heave
That landed them in this common grave?
How justified a burial,
How adequate, I think, until
One unexpected turn of phrase,
Sluggish but struggling to arise,
Shakes itself into a poem
About some dream-thick childhood home:
The "trellis-pleasures" of July,
White roses "twisting toward the sky"—
The "interweaving ecstasies"
Of birds among the "restless trees"—
The "mute, white world" of laundry day—
The "lovely, heavy smell" of hay—
And some nights, at the windowsill,
"The future blowing in," the chill.
I stand astonished in the gloom,
Enchanted by a simple poem,
A simple eye, a simple tongue,
Twelve lines entitled simply, "Song."
I doubt that much of it is true,
But, for an instant, I see through
This reverie made musical
To one dead man's amazing will,
Still stretching, clutching, mad for the sun,
Choking on its own oblivion.
Then, all at once, a scuffing sound
A half a dozen steps behind
Intrudes—too quietly—and stops.
A word, just one among these heaps,
Breaks off and hurtles to its doom,
Brushing the lip it tumbles from,
Which, to my great surprise, is mine.
I know—I sense it with my skin—
That now is not the time to turn,
That turning lets the dark be born,
And yet I do, I crane my neck
To find my mute self staring back
Into the scraped and blasted eyes
Of one flung out of paradise
Forever. Nothing human here,
Nothing but advertisement for
Our wretchedly communal end.
Then, somewhere, way back in my mind,
A screen door slaps against the clapboard,
Clipping the monitory word
That flashes from a mother's lips,
And while well-fed creation sleeps,
Sprawled snoring across the universe,
Face to the pillow like a child,
Bare feet go racing through a field.
Reprinted with the permission of Iambs & Trochees
The menace of my emptiness, I hear it,
Jaws crashing just an inch beneath the walk,
And any step now, what I take for stone
Will ripple and be water and I'm gone.
My wise companion, steady in his logic—
And his talk—is poniarding the air
With an incessant index finger, love,
I think, his theme. The park is beautiful,
Those rainy days that almost did me in
Transfigured here: this thick, green satisfaction
Sweeping off toward a row of grave, old elms,
A place of troubled memories, the Watch,
As nightmares from my childhood have me call them.
The smell of marijuana, heavy, sweet,
Drifts across to me from where two boys
Are looking guilty in a shady spot,
And as the flagstones undulate, I know
There's more to their one lazy afternoon,
Their talk of music and their mellow laughter,
Than I could dredge out of a thousand days.
The jogger, two quick steps ahead of death,
The groundsmen maundering with cigarettes
Forgotten at their lips, the pamphleteer,
The madman with his clicking fortune-finder—
Etched there, indisputably existing,
All of them anchored and dimensional,
While I skip in and out of this lush pond,
A true perfection of the featureless,
But too light for the record throw. I wobble—
Or as it seems to me the world does, dizzy
With its passions and its purposes.
My iron-minded comrade, for example,
Unscathed by Plato, Christ, St. Augustine,
And dashing off to parry with Montaigne,
One more imaginary sternum for
His wrathful digit. Phrases—quaint, old ruins—
Slurry from his mouth or fall in clumps
With Greek roots gnarled among them, meaningless
But real, at least in that the sounds are real.
Unwitting, he falls victim to my fancy
And melts into the waxworks of his soul:
A blue jay in his tantrums, or a squirrel,
Hot grease, a drowned man gargling prophecies—
The incarnations tumble through my head,
And I have mutilated one more friend.
Already we are starting our descent
Into the shadow of the Watch, a branch
Lies like a challenge on the path, pure threat.
How can he chatter in the face of that?
I feel my body turn in time to see
The blowout thrown back from his puzzled face,
A sick, strained laugh that shatters in the air,
The last of what is in me, grubby, crude.
And suddenly the terror of the world
Is gathered at my belly; run, I think,
And run I do, right through the worst of it,
The Watch, provision for a lasting dream
That ate me from the inside, bone by bone,
And then the rock is water and I'm gone.
Published in Pivot, No. 51, Winter 2000—2001
The Battered Knuckles of the Spring
Let the winter go litigate;
Spring is here and swinging,
Flushed from all of his lawless larks,
Winded with flower-flinging,
But ready, nevertheless, for more—
Races, chases, boasts,
Lips stained red with a fine old wine
After abusive toasts.
Life for him is a few short laughs,
Then that bright disaster,
Knowing which only makes him live
Lighter and higher and—faster.
Published in Anterior Poetry Monthly, March 1996