Back to Issue Nineteen.

finality

BY MICHAEL LEE

for Don

The lights along the Minnesota River are
golden nails fastening shut the horizon.
The bus floats home, West across the plains,
over this dark thread of road,
past snow covered fields reflecting
the moon’s wet light, until we can no longer tell
what is land or water or sky and we cannot tell
which our brother rests in now.
As we cross the final bridge into Saint Paul
everything to the east darkens
and the whole country closes
around the heart of the Midwest,
around its churches and its silos, its pilgrims journeying
before death to kneel and kiss its winding fingers,
to kiss its noble silence spreading
between the Mississippi and the Rust Belt
like a woolen and moth-torn quilt, a fresh coat
of snow, a eulogy always, almost, spoken.

Death, though it is final, is also hesitant and unsure.
It is the persistent silence which follows
that convinces us this boy was the one,
this land too, these factories and these barges
sunning themselves in the grey light
as if they might dip beneath the water and re-emerge
glistening and alive; these docks and these cranes,
these warehouses angling into the shadows, preserved
in a death-like geometry, though tenuous, as if
,if we clap and summon the lord, if we stomp our
feet until we cannot smell what keeps the body
here, until the body shakes, then might these songs
wake him, might these factories turn and light
like a bulb screwed in, might we be sentence like-
not final, but running on forever
through the grammar of mourning,
the grammar of laughter when laughter is all that is left,
until all that is left is his skin, and his bones, and we
who buried him are only stories or ash
on our grandchildren’s mantels, and his name
spray painted on the Oak Park wall is painted over
or chips off and washes into the dirt, and his bones
too become earth, and the bullet
in his leg is all that remains, and rests,
a small black seed opening in his coffin.     

 

Look

BY MICHAEL LEE

Driving beyond the city, beyond
cattle grazing, the long evening shadows
grazing on light until it is gone,
and the city is gone, I catch a glimpse
of a house just beyond the road. In its one lit window-
like a floating television in the dark-
a couple makes love. The man holds the woman
from behind by the hips, and she sinks
into him, open, as though asking
him to become her entirely,
but the man looks past her, through the window,
his gaze a kind of shadow wandering
through dusk into the hills, then beyond them
as if she is only a telescope to him,
as if, when he is inside her, he can see
a different life, one which contains neither of them.
I don’t believe I have ever seen a man so desperate
to leave, to enter a woman entirely so as to simply
pass through her and become, perhaps, a thought
she once had as a girl, become the morning
breeze or her bedroom curtains shifting quietly
like an Ivory Gull descending. His eyes scan
the horizon-the last of the sun a simple red sliver
of light, a dim lamp shining from beneath the crack
of a great door-and it is this gaze I carry with me.
Not the gaze of my mother or father
as they closed my bedroom door as a boy
and watched the dark fold over my face-
and then, one day, never looked at me this way again-
nor the gaze of the woman I loved
the many times we parted at airports and train stations
until eventually we parted and she did not look back,
not that of my grandmother, only bones and a hospital gown,
as she said my name and then turned towards the wall
forever. Not the abandoned calf before it was taken
into the woods and shot, not my childhood dog
before we drove her quietly to a quieter death.
Eventually, everything that can look, will
look upon us for the last time,
and our memory, which is a kind of faith,
will be unable to carry even itself.
Only the gaze of this nameless man
will remain, floating in a box of light, the planet
watching him stare out into the dark living room of the earth.     

 

 

american jericho

BY MICHAEL LEE

I walked around the hospital six times
and still the bricks did not fall, and still
no one came to ask if I would like to come in.
Though I prayed, and though I walked
around the hospital six times more and still
the doors did not open, and the bricks
did not fall, and my grandfather
probably laid those bricks
sixty years ago, and still I cannot enter. Once,
I walked six times around his buried bones
in reverse and he was not reassembled
out of the earth, not returned to me
or my blood circling always inside me, music
through the trumpets outside Jericho,
and the darkness blown out
of them, as if to shout me too down
to rubble. I walked around the hospital
twelve times and still the bricks did not fall,
and only dust gathered in my throat, and still
no one came to ask if I would like to come in,
though I looked each shift change in the eye,
though it was below freezing, even as the sun
began to rustle out of the concrete.
If we are each a city of sin then
this pulse rattling inside me is just a clock
counting down. A single note blown forever
until it isn’t, that is. Until the river dries.
There is a bible verse in which the people
circle a city until it falls to the ground.
There is a bible verse in which the blood
circles inside the body until the body falls
dead in the street. I know, I wrote it.
It is comprised of my dead friends,
and all their memory. Let me read to you now
from the Book of Stephen. The Book of Jay,
the Book of Don, of Susan, of Big Bob and Sean,
let me read to you in the pitch of bricks being laid
by my dead grandfather and his dead hands
as he builds a hospital his grandson cannot afford
to enter. I will tell you the story of each grain of dust
washed from his back until his own body was washed out
along with the water into the earth. Twenty-eight years,
and each day I’m this close to opening the kingdom of dirt,
and this day I’m walking around the hospital at two am-
because I think I am dying and want to be
dead-then three, then four am. How American,
all this fear. This trembling ground.   

 

 

 

Lee 19

Michael Lee is a Norwegian-American writer and author of the chapbook "Secondly. Finally", which won the 2014 David Blair Memorial Prize (Organic Weapon Arts). Having received grants and scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the LOFT Literary Center. His work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Hayden's Ferry Review, Indiana Review, Poetry Northwest, and Copper Nickel among other journals. Michael has worked as a dishwasher, a farm hand, and traveling performer as well as a youth counselor and arts programming director for youth experiencing homelessness in Minneapolis. He is a recent alum of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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