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Ron Koertge

Five poems

First Grade

Until then, every forest
had wolves in it, we thought
it would be fun to wear snowshoes
all the time, and we could talk to water.

So who is this woman with the gray
breath calling out names and pointing
to the little desks we will occupy
for the rest of our lives?


Yet books could lift me out of Illinois
and nearer to the saffron, thatchy
eaves of Elsewhere

There beautiful women swayed
with pots on their heads the way
the girl across the street improved

her posture with algebra while I
pretended she was bringing me
a drink from the bottomless
well of literature.

A Guide to Refreshing Sleep

It is best to remember those nights
when grown-ups were singing and breaking
glass and someone who smelled good
carried you up hushed stairs toward strange
cold bedrooms to be launched on a dark
lake of coats.

If Memory does not suffice, you may
summon the obvious mascots of sleep,
but forego counting. It is miserly. They
will come and stand by your bed, nodding
their graceful Egyptian heads, inviting you

across the crooked stile to one of those
hamlets nestled between blue hills
where the curious are curious about sleep,
the enthralled are enthralled with sleep,
and the great conclusion is always,
‘It’s time for bed.’

Look — a cottage door stands open. On the night
table is a single candle, yellow sheets are turned
back, and in the garden are marshaled
the best dreams in the world. Lie down.
The horrible opera of the day is over.
Close your eyes, so the world which loves you
can go to sleep, too.

...more poems follow ...

Boy playing with toy plane

Ruidoso, N. M.

We have come through the suburbs
of the moon to these mountains
drawn on a map in hurried lambdas,
like the work of a junior cartographer.

But they are beautiful in person,
and I love sitting on the porch of this
motel, the room number over my head
so I resemble Euclid on vacation.

I am poring over the dark biographies
of horses, counting the money I will
probably not win tomorrow while
the lips of the great American dusk
hover just inches from my own.


Beneath my feet the pier shifts
and drools. Above, some gulls carve
out the sturdy air as surfers arrange
themselves like quarter notes across
a distant wave.

It is a relief to stop staring at girls,
to quiet the heart’s thick strokes
and calmly pass the man with a truant
officer’s soft chest and scowl, a boy
writing a post card (that small hymn),
and then the great great grandchildren
of Lady Macbeth washing their hands
again and again at the edge
of the unraveling world

What a place to have God rear his
amazing head. Yet here I am, all
the clutter inside made in Your image.
The ocean is forever changing its clothes
to be more beautiful for You. There
is the horizon which You have drawn
with a golden rule and outlined, too,
a tiny ship and curl of smoke to make
the scene complete.

Photo of Ron Koertge
‘A Guide to Refreshing Sleep,’ ‘First Grade’ and ‘Ruidoso, N. M.’ are reprinted with the author’s permission from Making Love to Roget’s Wife, Poems New and Selected, by Ron Koertge, published by the University of Arkansas Press. (ISBN 1-55728-461-X)
‘Redondo’ and ‘Parched’ are previously unpublished poems.
Ron Koertge is a Professor of English at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California.
You can read Ron Koertge’s Homage to Frank O’Hara in issue # 10 of Jacket.

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