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.
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.