Robert Hill Long
The Montréal Review, April 2011
White Crucifixion (1938) by Marc Chagall
North Star 2003
The night she left America on the ferry north
she stationed herself at the aftermost rail
to watch the wake cleave the black strait
between what she'd put firmly behind her and what
she might yet be. It was like the flensing of a whale,
the fissure that faced her, dividing the earth
with a signature decisive as Genesis.
Over engine-rumble she heard a voice emerge
from a clutch of smokers to lament another invasion
-she was well-attuned to that noun-and as the chorus
of smoke mumbled Yes, that's right, she strained over the surge
and shudder of the ship to hear the rest: an invasion
of the private lives of stars. Gazing up, she murmured
to the sky, "At war with you, too?" Then turned and went forward.
Still Life with Mint Shampoo
I believe in Doctor Bronner, his blindness,
his essential aroma. There are eighteen ways
to get to heaven, and each involves the mingling
of mint oil and the body's love of water.
The rest is a foam of thought washing away
at your naked feet, which will go contra-dancing
down another drain one night. In the shower
what matters is showing lonely kindness
to corn and callus. Bless your scars and pores, sings
the doctor's ghost from your soapy halo as you square
to rinse off the peppery tang of mint. You're less
aging meat after this, more angel. The doctor says:
You do not need eyes for this. Your hands are plenty.
Scrub this body, bathe it. Every inch is holy.
Catch and Release
Low stones trawl the bottom of the sky, each baited
with name and date and homiletic verse, attached
to a monofilament of gut silk weighted
at the aerial end by a flying spider hatched
from the inventive gut of God. The Applegate
Trail ends in Pioneer Cemetery's laid-out
square of souls where Jesus fished a century's weight
of too-solid flesh from its drown of bone and doubt.
Some of the spiders sail over the blue Coast Range
to the Pacific, some into the open beaks
of migratory swifts. One lights in my blank book
right on the word God. No coincidence there. Strange
not to want to close the book on my catch, this freak
of spirit threading the eye to grass, that barbless hook.
Kill me in the water or kill me on the sand.
Kill me among the spruces on the cliff.
She was praying in a church without roof
or walls, crying hard. She could not stand.
In the zigzag of dead things at tideline
she sank. Kill me with sky black with rain
or cold blue going black and empty.
But she did not push her way into the sea.
Hard, hard to pierce the perpetual
noise at the edge of the world. The cold ache
in her knees was telling her to break,
break. No, she was not whole or well
but her fingers held one another, aware
that she was asking to live forever.
Nothing forgets us, nothing accepts us.
Mergansers rush across the bay for nothing
history can name. In shafts of sunlight
midges spell the urge that cracks their wings.
Lichens eat names off granite, oak roots
topple marble. Nothing's willing to take you
on consignment, like flotsam or roadkill.
No forms to fill out. No bill
save what was etched in your palm at birth.
You're eligible by virtue of bones and flesh.
You drink wine, you write poems, you wish
it lasted forever or ceased yesterday-nothing won't ask
why. It's oddly tactful. Nothing won't say why
the dying close their eyes before they die.
Robert Hill Long's books include The Power to Die, The Work of the Bow, The Effigies, The Kilim Dreaming, and The Wire Garden. He has been recently awarded second fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Oregon Arts Commission.