Saturday 7 May 2022

Five Poems by John Riley



What you see are the remains:

the woodland, the smoke, the retreating flames.

Somewhere, perhaps, in a far-away country

the sky is bluer and roses cling to a stone wall,

palm trees lull a milder wind.

Here there is nothing.

Here there is nothing but snow on the branches of the spruce.

Here there is nothing to kiss with warm lips.

Here lips grow cold with time.

And you claim, my child, your heart is brave

and living without hope is worse than death.

What do you expect of slaughter?

Should we love instead these long sick hours of life,

these narrow years of yearning,

the brief blooming of a desert rise?



And it must be faced

something wild moves through

your evening

perhaps a coyote

driven down from dry hills

has heard it is the night

you may embrace his embrace

or a fox fattened on dreams

will settle on your lawn

with no regard of stars

or wind or even the tilt

of the chimney smoke

remnants of your fire

or it could be just a crow

tired of the wire

fresh from a funeral

and an hour of cawing

at the you beasts

padding by

Weed Fire


Wind was a sorry excuse for force

by time the fox stopped running,

ending his escape of the failing fire,

and waited, hunched but never slinking,

inside the weeds and we, the three of us,

on the edge of the field, you and your brother

who would brag later he had tossed the match

did not wait like the fox,

as though our existence had been threatened,

but with the shallow, yellow transience

of new humans disappointed (although I,

the only one who was afraid

of the joy of destruction)

what could have been set free,

was the most disappointed

that our smouldering

would soon be gone




The girl's hand is pressed against the tree. It's early summer

and her skin is still white with winter. Her boyfriend stands beside her.

Both are laughing, their teeth two rows of washed shells

in the watermelon-stained sunset. There is the scent

of lighter fluid and meat and now at last I reach the memory

of cake between his lips, and how he wanted it, and wants it still,

standing there beside the fire-escape, where birds lift

into the alley air.


Not Spring


Why write of another spring

hidden like a scout until

it breeds from sod and rain

a sudden ripping thrust

of yellow and blue and sun?

Spring does no flowing here

and makes each bruising move

free of melody and squared

like a fence right-angled

to split one greening field

from the greener hill beyond.

Nothing in such rapid action

can sustain a breathing note.

Write instead of the traveller

passing by on a bumpy cart

framed in circled language,

historical, doomed by eyes

forced to look forward from

where his head once turned.

John Riley is a former teacher. He has published poetry and fiction in Smokelong Quarterly, The Ekphrastic Review, Better Than Starbucks, Banyan Review, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Bindweed, and many other journals and anthologies online and in print. EXOT Books will publish a volume of 100 of his 100-word prose poems in 2022. He now works in educational publishing and has written over forty books of nonfiction for young readers.

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