Shannon Jonas



What alms for the living may I offer—
              moth-eaten cloth, parcel of salted tongue, or bovine-heart?
              A glass eye wrenched from the ashes?

I wander the field for neglected eggs and shed silver
              feathers. The birds trill and trill and trill.


And there was the watchman’s lantern that ogled form
              within the formlessness; and I peddled
              my flesh piecemeal to gods
              who resided as starlight that filmed the earth’s hollows
              with a bluish caul; and the moon was a milky eye
              to prayer; in dream or under pines.

Nearly every dawn I recall hundreds of settling wings.
              I do not know what I held closest to my body:
              the breath in my lungs, the breath
              held for a moment in my hands.


The November night is drinking rough wine with the mansion-
              scribes. Ghosts of great birds lacerate the sky
              over a small body of water, a hand reaches for a cello
bow and the furnace grates its fires, lumbering
              against the cold.

Amid the wine-stains and fennel there lies a severed finger.
              It has been on the chopping block since dawn. The husband
              is locked in his study. A servant mills about the woodpile,
              fumbling with the logs.

Someone weeps from the reeds.


How the fallen leaves seem to wince in response
              to the breath of the coming night, their last exhalation
              before the change in the blood, this change of season;
              before the salient flush and crispness, and our ruminations
on fire. Now is the moment when the night
              may be called piebald;

sporadic puddles and outcrops of leaves mirror the wind
              in their frames; we see the sky in negative.

Fine sand between the teeth is a sign of the mountains’
              erosion. Sorrel gatherers covet this silt, this
              departure to the mundane.

The sky spreads its salt, abrading the grooves of teeth in sleep,
              turning dreams toward the enveloping darkness, the
              mounting cumulus where voices recede, and the voices of
              those we love and have loved recede,

and we rise to draw a bath, thirsting.


Heat lightning circulates within the dead. It is their dreams guiding
              them through the fields of their youth. Their clothes
              are arranged in piles at their feet. A row of steel-toed boots
              tightens under the sun, licked clean by deer at dawn. Worms
              digest salt in their labyrinths of crumb. The trees
              move like hair underwater.


The storm has passed. Leave it to the trees to bear
              the silvered frost, to bear the varicose canopy,
              this night of a thousand fingerprints.

The sky’s damp linen is caught on November’s half-sunken nails
              and a brief still (lack of sound) is reminiscent of the near
              silence that is a sinking stone.

A wringing of clouds, of like hands: collected rainwater,
              its rolling boil, four potatoes dropped slowly in, the gathering
              of steady eyes, hunger abundant, the steady eyes and the fire
              spitting fire; the inevitability of ash. A wringing of clouds,
              of like hands.

Something shared: hunger’s bond. I wake to dawn, the mercurial-
              sky that has already drawn copious blood.


The footrace led to a grove of sycamores. Concupiscence singed
              the day. An afternoon storm waylaid the rising dust, the 13-
              year cicadas trembled in their buried-skin. Vespertine
              branches swallowed the nightingale thrushes, the cold red
              sun, the swallow’s hunt on the wing.

In the frigid shade, the wind uncovers remnants of an ancient
              footrace scattered beneath the brumal-dust. Scattered
              vacancies: the eyes of statues that seem to follow one through
              an empty house. All eyes of men are colorless in dreams.
              Essentially devoid. The breeze rustles the fallen leaves,
              cicada skeletons, to and fro.


Always the river at midnight. Silver-eyed fish circle the moon,
              cradled in its sunken johnboat; its dim likeness films
              the water’s surface.

Song-less. Birds watch as you wade beyond your knees. You’ve shed
              your body; it grows frost on the bank,
              quilted slowly by copper leaves.