Ken Anderson

Mbira


An African carved your Picasso designs,

hammered your prongs to lengths

of notes— short ones treble, long ones bass.


You conjure up Zimbabwe, elephants, baobab, a pair

of suckling lion cubs.


Thumbs work your tines, projecting pristine music

into the present, many tribal voices per thumb.


Birdcalls fledge on your tips, spring

into flight. Pale buds flower in pastels of tones.


The scrolls were handed down

without papyrus, not a hieroglyph, just

a chime-like code. The Word

in wood unfolds a world.


Instead of a score: mbira. To be and play

by ear, free as gazelles.


You’re an old objet, a song

at the root of the human tree, an artifact

from black Arcadia.


At dawn, we will set out by boat

for the head of the river, searching

for the spirit thought extinct.



Ex Marks the Spot


The last time I saw you shrinks

to a spot years off. You’d climbed

inside an older woman, and I swelled

with love for each gray thread in your skein

of black. By day you sort neurotics

in a clinic (you who were so crazy, stoned).

By night you tend a flame. Lost

in the woods, the children drop his name

like bread crumbs. During our Golden Age,

we ranged the Groves of Academe.

Our blood had set the thermostat at spring.

Remember the fun on the hide‑a‑bed seat

of my mother’s fabulous Dodge?

I’d breathe something frat. You’d catch

on fire, like brush. (After all,

your analyst had prescribed me.) The car rocked

like a boat every night. Elephant ears would eavesdrop,

and Spanish moss would dance among the oaks. And all

for a game corsage. But soon we sighed,

and the future rattled its chain. We’d counted the days,

we asserted roundly. We’d numbered more

than yours, and anyone could buy us

from Our Lady of the Green. So that’s

who you are, my first romance, the Juliet

with whom I studied sex, the axis

of that other world, my youth.



Mere Chance


It was spring in February. The tulips were redder

than red lights, the grass vitreous green. The dogwood branched

to candelabra lit with tiny leaves. A satyr, gold

in morning light, crouched on a pedestal, playing his pipes.

Or was that the birds?


The yard —oh, every stick— was popping with buds

as keen about the warmth and wet as Nick, my pup,

the world’s most ingenuous dog. He strolled

around the lawn, inspecting his kingdom,

like Chanticleer, sniffing the subjects

of his flowers, herbs, and moss.


The dog cannot hide his heart. You can see right

through him to it, plump as a plum

and pattering out the purple in his chest. He loves me

the way that sunlight blasts through clouds.


Then, by chance, I saw the solar blanket twitch.

The pump was off. No, Nicky, like an Icarus, had fallen

into the pool. When I reached the deck, he’d scrambled

onto the cover the way a drowning boy would claw

onto ice. I grabbed him from the floe.


The most manicured grounds, little man, are paper thin,

a linen sheet floating on water. You can slip straight through

in a blink. There’s a snowflake on the cherry petal, ice

in a swimming pool, a whiteout in a tulip’s glass

of red. Yes, it was spring in February. Sure. But—

it was also February in spring.



The Skeleton Company


The carpet beetle cleans us

to the bone, ticking away

like a small watch. In its cage, the heart sang

like a canary. Now it’s a dried-up rose.

Where bellows blew words hot:

a solemn silence. I have met the members,

all whose names do not appear

in the letterhead: the medal-spangled Nazi,

the Mafia gunman, the black-pearl pusher.

The flunkies, too— those slight deaths:

the train’s departure, the priest’s sigh.

All those other little debts add up.

And reps have shown me how: the chair,

the rope, the bomb, yes, all the steps

that led down to a cellar of jaws.

But, thin one, where’s the boss,

the one who grows these stones?

And when is my appointment?

 

Ken Anderson was a finalist in the 2001 Saints and Sinners poetry contest. New Poetry from the Festival (an anthology of the 2021/2022 winners and finalists) includes four of his poems. His poetry books are The Intense Lover and Permanent Gardens. He studied under Miller Williams at Louisiana State University. His novel Sea Change: An Example of the Pleasure Principle was a finalist for the 2012 Ferro-Grumley Award and an Independent Publisher Editor’s Choice. His novel Someone Bought the House on the Island was a finalist in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. A stage adaptation won the Saints and Sinners Playwriting Contest and premiered May 2, 2008, at the Marigny Theater in New Orleans. Publications include Café Review, Coffin Bell, Dash Literary Journal, Dawntreader, Gay and Lesbian Review, The Journal, London Grip, Lullwater Review, Mollyhouse, Oddball Magazine, Penumbra, Queerlings, Rabid Oak, Sangam Literary Magazine, Screen Door, Sein und Werden, Toho Journal, and Verbal Art.