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Meeting You After Chernobyl

by Paul Nemser


The last frozen day had come and gone, and we were
sleeping in the elbows of trees in the elbow of a town,
our sutures all sunken together as if we shared one wound,
as if we had climbed from a single pit

like a race of dinosaurs grown from a fused lump of eggs
that had slept in valley ice for three shifts of the North Star,
as the leaves undecorated the last few branches
which were skinny as bat bones or the bones of a squirrel.

There were cattle blotched with waning alphabets.
And there were eyes that had seen too many lights,
so we didn’t recognize the wells
we had drunk from all our lives, nor

the creek that flowed with clothes and flesh,
nor the seeds brought from all over the countryside,
from knived sacks in waterlogged barns, from pods
trembling on grotesque grasses.

We talked to each other until we could not talk.
It was gobbledygook, was joy, nothing to remember:
We would not be overrun like ants by a larger horde of ants.
The darkness would not come closer.

A dog would lift its howl to where the wind left
the tablecloths—crumpled, clawed up, drying in the sun.
A phalanx of trucks that had jostled our vertebrae
would sound like bubbles in a bottle.

I never missed you so much as waking from that sleep.
And I dream of you now lingering barely below ground,
all your twenty fingers warbling together as on flutes.
My pores open to you as to rain.

Years give way to lakes of white dust, to unyielding dirt-land.
The snouts of oxen stain pale as marble
when the beasts haul blades through the hardness that remains
of what decades ago had been garden.

 

Paul Nemser’s book, Taurus, chosen by Andrew Hudgins as winner of the 2011 New American Poetry Prize, will be published by New American Press in 2013. Nemser’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Blackbird, Fulcrum, Per Contra, Raritan, Redivider, and elsewhere. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife Rebecca and practices law in Boston. (7/2013)


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