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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.


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