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To do one thing well over and over

rattlesnakes for pop-guns, meat for rope

Eclogue

  • Twenty-Two Months
  • Rent in the neighborhood is dropping.
  • Rent everywhere is dropping. Can you spare
  • a little CHANGE,
  • asks the sign where my bank,
  • merging with the bank across the street,
  • fails. I want to own land in my country.
  • I want to make my place in this city certain.
  • The fish in the bar next to the laundromat:
  • do they know the limits of their translucent world?
  • When my wife died I thought,
  • All within us praise His holy name.
  • His power and glory ever more proclaimed.
  • Even then I knew that life didn’t really end,
  • that it would fissure into two places,
  • inside and out. The woman I love now
  • distinguishes absence from loss.
  • When there is no fog on a nearby hill
  • we walk through her old neighborhood
  • to the city’s highest point.

Zugzwang

Eighteen Months

  • (n.) Compulsion to move. A chess term referring
  • to a situation in which a player would like to do
  • nothing (pass), since any move will damage his position.
  • Not that it mattered in the beginning
  • but there were patterns. I saw three moves
  • to your bishop, six to your rook, nine to your queen
  • and then a slow game of pawns. Almost at mate,
  • I forgot the axes running to the corners,
  • failed to anticipate your casual sweep of the lanes,
  • one side of my board plucked clean like a branch of wild
  • anything. You opened a window to let out the heat.
  • We started again. It felt good to keep playing,
  • to do one thing well over and over.
  • Maybe that’s why I liked
  • the pizza place around the block that burnt our crusts,
  • why you could not wait to move uptown,
  • away from the martinis, mochas, and Marc Jacobs.
  • Our new home was several blocks from anywhere.
  • Half a mile out the buoy lights shined like rosary beads.
  • If we were quiet and mindful the trees around the lake
  • shook when we walked beneath them.

Badlands

  • Theodore Roosevelt came here to die again.
  • Evenings, rain started from one
  • side of the sky and crossed overhead.
  • He named his wife in every miniature valley
  • peaked with miniature stones.
  • He slept on floors and under bunks,
  • democratic, hanging back
  • when the workmen rushed to work.
  • Six or seven months he stayed ahead of it,
  • his fingertips hardening into glass,
  • the silver on his jacket
  • translucent from a distance.
  • He weighted down one name,
  • then another until they disappeared
  • from letters: excised, a tax on the work.
  • He took to trading skins for furs,
  • rattlesnakes for pop-guns, meat for rope.
  • Whole afternoons of buffalo
  • shook the empty ground he crossed.

John W. Evans is a Jones Lecturer in creative writing at Stanford University. His memoir, Should I Still Wish, is forthcoming in 2017. He is the author of Young Widower: A Memoir, winner of the 2014 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize and a 2015 Forewords Review Prize; The Consolations, winner of the 2015 Peace Corps Writers Best Poetry Book; and two poetry chapbooks.

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Eclogue

  • Twenty-Two Months
  • Rent in the neighborhood is dropping.
  • Rent everywhere is dropping. Can you spare
  • a little CHANGE,
  • asks the sign where my bank,
  • merging with the bank across the street,
  • fails. I want to own land in my country.
  • I want to make my place in this city certain.
  • The fish in the bar next to the laundromat:
  • do they know the limits of their translucent world?
  • When my wife died I thought,
  • All within us praise His holy name.
  • His power and glory ever more proclaimed.
  • Even then I knew that life didn’t really end,
  • that it would fissure into two places,
  • inside and out. The woman I love now
  • distinguishes absence from loss.
  • When there is no fog on a nearby hill
  • we walk through her old neighborhood
  • to the city’s highest point.

Zugzwang

Eighteen Months

  • (n.) Compulsion to move. A chess term referring
  • to a situation in which a player would like to do
  • nothing (pass), since any move will damage his position.
  • Not that it mattered in the beginning
  • but there were patterns. I saw three moves
  • to your bishop, six to your rook, nine to your queen
  • and then a slow game of pawns. Almost at mate,
  • I forgot the axes running to the corners,
  • failed to anticipate your casual sweep of the lanes,
  • one side of my board plucked clean like a branch of wild
  • anything. You opened a window to let out the heat.
  • We started again. It felt good to keep playing,
  • to do one thing well over and over.
  • Maybe that’s why I liked
  • the pizza place around the block that burnt our crusts,
  • why you could not wait to move uptown,
  • away from the martinis, mochas, and Marc Jacobs.
  • Our new home was several blocks from anywhere.
  • Half a mile out the buoy lights shined like rosary beads.
  • If we were quiet and mindful the trees around the lake
  • shook when we walked beneath them.

Badlands

  • Theodore Roosevelt came here to die again.
  • Evenings, rain started from one
  • side of the sky and crossed overhead.
  • He named his wife in every miniature valley
  • peaked with miniature stones.
  • He slept on floors and under bunks,
  • democratic, hanging back
  • when the workmen rushed to work.
  • Six or seven months he stayed ahead of it,
  • his fingertips hardening into glass,
  • the silver on his jacket
  • translucent from a distance.
  • He weighted down one name,
  • then another until they disappeared
  • from letters: excised, a tax on the work.
  • He took to trading skins for furs,
  • rattlesnakes for pop-guns, meat for rope.
  • Whole afternoons of buffalo
  • shook the empty ground he crossed.

John W. Evans is a Jones Lecturer in creative writing at Stanford University. His memoir, Should I Still Wish, is forthcoming in 2017. He is the author of Young Widower: A Memoir, winner of the 2014 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize and a 2015 Forewords Review Prize; The Consolations, winner of the 2015 Peace Corps Writers Best Poetry Book; and two poetry chapbooks.

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