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 Coast, The Massachusetts Review, Crab Orchard Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere.
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