Poems

by

Holly Clark Coburn

two untitled senryu
Cyphers magazine, vol. 80 http://www.cyphers.ie/

horses gone
she cleaned the last stall
then lay down in it

a drowning in the river
yet mica glitters
on the washboard road

ROSE BUSHES
2016 calendar
American Printing History Association
(Chesapeake Chapter)

Hospital rose bushes sag
through a chain-link fence–
the ensnared souls of patients
who longed to be free,
a willing of their wild
and thorny
passage.

IZARD COUNTY FRUIT
Cyphers magazine, vol. 31

The moldered possum down in the barn
has a head like a vacant milkweed pod,
her last thoughts scattered in the form of moths,
white wings beating on the window panes.

A shack unravels under warping trees
where grass tightens round the corner stones
and peaches pickled in a time of hope
wait in the curves of a mason jar.

WILD HORSE ISLAND

When my boot toe nudged the horse’s skull
from its bleached patch of island grass,
bird-sized raindrops slapped the ground,
and the cusped moon in the midday sky
was a fragment from the bones
scattered on the slopes.

INDIAN ENCAMPMENT

From the pages of a mildewed book,
I’ve cut out photographs of an Indian
encampment. I study the horses, the grass
between tepees, the elders–their eyes vacant.
I consider the time that has passed.
The photos unfold in my hand from
past to present along with me–
a scout of the universe watching itself. I
observe from a distance these images.
They bloom into the present as paper
stained with the shapes of prairie culture.
And my thoughts are cloud
shadows scattering
into the hills.

BLACKBERRY WINTER RESOLUTION

The rescued horses eat hay in the sun,
their sunken backs black with rain rot.

If suffering is an illusion, as some maintain,
then on this windy day in Appalachia

it’s not enlightenment I seek. I want courage
to visit these horses again.

I will come back and rub Hawkeye’s forehead
in the way he loves, the tufts of hair falling out

and drifting downwind like dandelion seeds.
I will seek beauty in his transformation.

HALF-MOONS

When I was seventeen,
my grandmother studied the half-moons
rising on my fingernails,
packed her doll in a basket
and climbed out the window at night
to go home.

A BULL NARRATES ITS DEATH
Cyphers magazine, vol. 33

Cows loom like soft stones in the grass,
easing toward a better place
while cattle egrets, sleek as thorns
embed around my weary form,
warbling beetle myths to me.
I don’t understand. And the egrets burst
into the flapping white of rain.
When it stops, dark birds twist from my side —
big ones like I’ve never seen —
and unlike a bull, we circle away in the air.

PURPLE COAT

The old, wide woman crossed her lawn
like a hot-air balloon pulled by mule teams far below.
Her purple coat rode unwillingly on her humped back,
taunted by hysterical laundry hung behind.

RUINS IN THE FURROWS

Kirge was a kind man who axed his wife.
She must have had colorful, porcelain bones —
a tractor plows up a mosaic of chips every spring
on the dark acre that absorbed their home.

THE LAYNESPORT PLACE
Cyphers magazine, vol. 35

Laynesport and his mistress were seldom seen.
He was white. She was black.
They lived at the end of a road till they died.

When I saw the abandoned shack
in a field of broomsedge up to my thighs,
grasshoppers popped from my path like sparks
and the air brightened with their clicking sounds.
As hay remnants stirred in the open door
two buzzards broke from a gap in the roof —
great pieces of the attic air
that flapped away hugely and were gone.

AMAZONIAN TEA
Cyphers magazine, vol. 35

It was evening when I took my tea.
Knots of foliage bulged from the tree tops
and blossomed into caskets cradling bankers
embalmed in their suits and fleur-de-lis ties.
All night I burned my flashlight on them
and listened to scraps of their whispering:
“Nothing has changed. We like it this way.
Come take a nap with us on satin.”
By morning their coffins were rotten pods
raining seeds on the forest floor.
I hauled them away in jungle wagons,
ground them up and brewed more tea.

AUGUST SNAKES

The local dwarf who raised poisonous snakes
waited by a rattling cottonwood
that mottled a bench on the courthouse square.
We were in the diner sipping iced tea,
watching the Last Supper glow on the wall,
tornado-green in the fluorescent light.
The bookmobile coasted by to its spot,
so we moved outside through the August dust
and saw C.B. the dwarf block the van door.
Horses flicked their tails by the barbed edge of town.
The only sound was heated metal ticking.
“I want six books on snakes,” we heard him say,
and the librarian looked him over,
said she had one with her that day.
But no, it had to be six —
“Six books on snakes all together.”
Weeks later, the bookmobile returned
with a stack of snake books tied in a bundle.
But C.B. was up on a river ridge
in the hot black fires of afternoon trees,
wrestling a copperhead into its sack.

TWO-SPOT BARBECUE

Where the blonde fields were peppered with cows,
I waited inside an open shed.
A bare shrub burst into sparrows
and a man entered the doorway
that blazed like a rectangular sun.
Gravel crackling under my tires
had summoned him to his coals. I ordered pork.
He turned and took a ham from the roaster,
said, “I don’t move too fast. Only got one leg.”
He carved the meat with an electric knife
and marbled cats rustled from the grass,
their shadows leaning toward the smells inside.
In aluminum foil he bundled the meat
and set it before me like a secret.

RHYMERS

Pulling weeds from the elephant ear,
I heard two hammering rhymers
attack a free-verse writer
and attempt to tack
the blue of her shirt
to the sky.

A VOLUNTEER IN THE GARDEN

A fat man rubbed with spices
lies in the garden
crimping the chives as he sleeps.
We watch him from the window,
wondering who he is
and how he rests so well
on the hot soil of strangers.
When we step outside, he speaks —
I’m so glad you have come.
Please take a seat.
There is shade if you want it.
I’m almost finished.
Then his big belly pinkens
and we pick him.

FURTHER OUT
(for my father)

When I was four
and fingering seeds
in my pockets,
I’d wait for you on the porch
and watch you stamp
the farm from your boots.

One day I waited with a mouse,
its life snapped shut by a trap.
Mother said, “Don’t touch it.”
But I got near enough to see
its eyes fade.
You took it by the tail
and threw it far
into the grasses.
I followed it there.

I suppose you could have
punished me for not
leaving death alone.
Instead you knelt
beside the mouse and me
and we listened to the grass
uncrimp around us.
You said, “We’ll put him further out.”

And we agreed
that further grasses were better.