Tuesday 10 January 2023

Five Poems by Michael T. Young

By Phoenix Fires

Our songs were always of ash

and the warmth and comfort

of hugging it to our shoulders.

Under its soft shawl we could

feel stubs of our wings, where

they once beat. As we leaned

into the fires, we felt light

lick the dark at its edges

and crack with pleasure:

the taste of wood,

and the heart of water,

the funnels that siphon off

the magic from substrates.

It’s how we knew that when

we lifted our arms to the stars

we wove earth into our wishes

and every step toward dream

was laced with aromas of soil.

It’s how we came to understand

all futures are wrapped in bark

and the patches of leaves,

and when the sun returns

we will all rise to meet him.

Learning the Right Words

There was nothing more to say,

only a suitcase and duffle bag to pack.

The trek ahead of us was the long way

around the waters that divided

one river lamp from another

set adrift in the dispatches.

Where the trails intersected,

campfires sparked differences

in an alphabet of colour and shade,

although not under a canopy

of pine needles, as expected,

but between the columns

of city hall and the courts.

In the thickening smoke,

gears in all the clocks clogged

and stopped their alarms.

Soot darkened the marble ceilings

and blackened images hovering

in the chiseled friezes.

Over the silent weeks, we shared

meals and darned socks.

We gathered wood. Hesitant

to speak words, we hummed

as we worked. Weeks fell

to months and the rhythms

of blossom and wither, until

in the early autumn chill,

we traced through the soot

a new language of how

to grow together in the same light.

The Land of Sweet Dreams

All the flowers are toxic and the birds evil.

Clouds remind inhabitants of drifting nooses,

garrotes bleeding into thumbscrews, guillotines.

The only pets are bomb-sniffing dogs, trained

not to prevent bombings but to sniff out citizens

who aren’t building a bomb in their basement,

which is considered a civic duty.

All music sells something, often medication

for hemorrhoids or genital warts. The only

permissible entertainment is either infomercials

or daylong shopping sprees for useless items.

There are tax breaks for people who waste

the most or betray friends without detection.

Landfills are designated as national monuments.

The anthem of the country is in a minor key

and never played but on rainy days, preferably

during lightning storms, when there’s a chance

someone will be struck and the occasion

can be followed by a funeral. Every city is built

around its munitions factory and the first word

children are taught to speak is “power.”

The national ballet only performs dances

that mimic great battles, and all citizens

consider themselves connoisseurs of such theater.

Defunct steel mills and slag dumps are anointed

as mystical sites, canopied, lit with teardrop

Turkish lanterns. People sit among these ruins

considering the colour and lightness of ash.

Carved into the glassy crags are kiosks

for visiting travelers. Here they provide pamphlets

detailing the natives’ expertise in the ways of sleep:

in choosing the right pillow, bed frame, and mattress,

in knowing the right thread count for sheets,

the right weight for blankets, eye masks,

in setting their noise machines to the perfect pitch

of crickets or crashing waves or rolling thunder,

in matching herbs or pills to the biology

that can carry the exhausted body

into the only place no one can follow.

Mistaking Each Other for Gods

The tree above the ground

matches the tree below,

its roots airtight

in waterlogged earth

after a torrential downpour.

Breathe deeply and imagine

taking the plunge, whether into water

or the reservoir of your former selves.

It’s eight o’clock on either side

of the day. In both cases, it’s an echo

passing from before to after,

like the number 8 toppling into infinity,

going on forever and carrying you with it.

The floor I dance across is your ceiling,

as if I were a god

who quickstepped over the stars.

You cast your wishes toward them,

and my feet trail luminescent patterns

of my struggle toward their granting.

But I am not a god,

and something about you

is divine. That’s why

the nature of both these mysteries

defies everything we say,

and we spend every hour

filling the books with our astonishment.

Finding the Song

What we wanted from sparrows

was no longer a song, but flight

from the fires of our falling cities,

a map that charted the way out

as the crow flies, since every human route

was blocked or in disrepair.

Guitars were not needed

for strumming and tuning

but as planters, vines

creeping out their sound holes

and up their necks in a silent

reminder of green and rootedness.

We dug to find the caves

of our deep necessity—not light,

but morning fogs to wrap us

in warm obscurities, a cloak

against each accusation.

We listened for the waters

tapping from the dark corners

of limestone, where the rock furniture

of our prehistory was stored.

Our eyes adjusted to the dimness.

We settled into its arrangements

and listened carefully to the wind

cutting its teeth on sharp rocks,

whistling through the tunnels,

teaching us again

the song of our first father.

Michael T. Young’s third full-length collection, The Infinite Doctrine of Water, was longlisted for the Julie Suk Award. He received a Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award for his collection Living in the Counterpoint. His poetry has been featured on Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac and appeared in such journals as, One, Pinyon, Talking River Review, and Valparaiso Poetry Review.

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