Back to Issue Twelve.

People We Were Soon to Become

BY NICK NARBUTAS

 

The sight of elephants kneeling into dust reminds
me of the car we drove out, past daylight, out
to the edge of our youths, where the sky drives

its tusks into the soil and digs up
the bones of us. You were driving, pink
knuckled and hair like a tumbleweed.

The ocean approached us like a bad cousin.
We approached the ocean like our headlights
were loaded with buckshot. Someone heard

that someone said there was a lighthouse out here
and we were too full of hoped-for headlines, lips
too far curled around our summerteeth not to

believe it. I was riding shotgun. I was a landslide
strapped to a bucket seat, I was planning
to remove myself from this nook of the world.

Any minute the lighthouse would appear before us
standing like a bald god between horizon
and heat death, any minute the lighthouse

would reveal its stone-bellied hunger,
the torch of its eye scissoring the dark into gold
ribbons, cutting out the names of the people

we were soon to become. We wanted to know.
We wanted to become the stampede
of would-be astronauts hurtling towards a knock-off Mars.

But nothing on nothing rolled across the road.
But not all change improves. But here
is the moon-cold tusk, here is the hammer

we’d have taken to the torch-lens anyway.
I want to come home now. I want to get in your car
and swerve off towards graveyards planted by mastodons.

 

Blue Orchid in the Ear of a bull

BY NICK NARBUTAS

 

We can learn to be good. A flash of lightning
cutting into the bones of the farmhouse isn’t the same

as capital punishment. We can stop sliding bullets
into the terrified veins of an eighteen-year-old you or I

have never met. I plant a fictional garden.  I invite you
in to eat its offerings. We’ll starve to death this way.

In one life I was a bullfighter, my coat made of crushed
roses, my sword hewn from the shadow of my sword.

In one life I was a stadium where people heaped
roses on the slumped body of a bull. We can learn,

we can try this again, so I do. In this life,
I stayed home from the bullfight, coaxing

an orchid up from the fictional dirt in my garden.
And in that life I was the orchid and the sun

hung itself to be my crown. We can do this all day.
Until we get it right. In one life I built

a farmhouse out of lightning rods. Everyone
felt their ribs budding through their skin, but we sat

patiently waiting at the table, for the lightning
to come and say an honest grace,  

say it to our faces, to our teeth. I want to be good.  
I want to cut off my ear and tie it to the horn of a bull.

 

What Makes This Mage Unforgettable

BY NICK NARBUTAS

 

is the way he every morning refuses

to get a real job / not so long as there is a sky

in which real clouds look down on us

this mage is going to show the clouds

what’s what / he’s going to teach them a lesson

about lightning : it’s no heavy

thing you let go of / it’s a kind of promise

you make yourself : everything’s going to be

ok / when I say that

I know I’m placing a bet

and it’s better to maybe be wrong now and then

than to think that things could ever fail

to be ok / mother says the mage

I made up a new spell for you

ribbitus roboticus hopeless and bottomless

be young & happy for once in your goddamn a cloud

swoops down and whisks the mother

considerably away leaving behind

snakes / the sound of an ocean shore

where vacationing families are painting the matriarchs

happy portraits of the present / this daiquiri is a good daiquiri

isn’t it nana / isn’t it / yes indeed I’d say this daiquiri

may be the last daiquiri I’ll ever need / a satisfied

lifetime of daiquiris / wouldn’t you say that

nana wouldn’t you

but what really wins the mage

a spot in history’s tasseled scrapbook

is the sun

he allows to rise over his roof every

morning like a relentless

terrier with mud on three of its

four paws / how

do you even do that / the sun

is a swole mouse gorging

itself on our world and the mage

allows this to go on / he composes

the sun’s bestiary / one morning

the sun is a lynx

with forty gorged mice on its teeth

the mage notes: be always wary

the sun can backstab even itself / 40 times over

when the sun rises

in the form of a buffalo with one hoof

treading the empty air past the cliff’s blue edge

the mage strips off his cloak like a fever

he enters the forest / the forest enters the mage

the sun drags its beard through the sky

it is possible

one day there will be no clouds

only mothers unhappy with childhood

the mage has a spell that makes

everything turn out ok

it goes : everything’s gonna turn out ok

everything’s gonna turn out ok / everything’s

gonna turn out ok / and he’ll keep saying it

even if it’s already come not true



Nick Narbutas recently completed his MFA at Columbia University, where he taught poetry as a Graduate Teaching Fellow. His poems have appeared or soon will appear in Gulf CoastThe Massachusetts Review, Crab Orchard Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere.

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