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Jacket 19 — October 2002   |   # 19  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |
This issue of Jacket is a collaboration with Verse magazine

John Beer

Two poems


I stood for seven hours
in a field a couple of hundred yards
outside the limits of Bowling Green, Ohio.
I was making my small contribution
to the general effort: tracking my shadow
with a mechanism I invented
when I was six years old. The machine
has three parts. The pewter stylus etches the shape,
the focusing lens billows from its wire loop,
on its surface swirl phantom reds and greens,
and the barbed mask of forgiveness mimics
the several figures that Euclid describes
in the sequel to his Elements, I
Was a Greek Mathematician. The blindfold
kept slipping. My partner resented
the paper handcuffs, tall cylindrical hat.
Who can say what justice is
or find it in a muddy field without an apparatus?
A telegram fell from the sky. It was addressed
to John Bees. I opened it greedily.
‘How many years’ (I’m quoting) ‘divide
the day of our birth from the day that our investments
in memory, in trucks, in singing without words
fall back upon us, reverting to a state
only seen in the caves of faultless harmony?
All is forgiven. Come home soon. Love, Mary.’
Mary, if you’re out there, you should know
your question has no answer. Though your message
will never reach John Bees, take comfort.
My measurements continue. In a month
Paula and I will ascend the gilded staircase,
a tourist attraction in downtown Bowling Green.
For now, though, our only companion is this sparrow,
breathing as though its body were soaked in fear.
I am the sparrow, the staircase, Euclid’s book
no living eyes have seen. But all is not
forgiven. Stay where you are. As always.


It has rained for seven weeks
in this field a couple of hundred yards
outside the limits of Bowling Green, Ohio.
The pen makes a blue sound.
I can distinguish it from the rain
which falls all night and leaves no trace.
I cannot explain
why the one I came with has left me
here among the weeds,
here where the flames burn out of sight.
‘Perhaps he has attained the limit of his love,’
someone wrote in my book. The oleander
bursts its thick seeds. They drink of time itself,
time which judges each word with jaundiced eyes.

They were wise to take my skin away from me.
All I was using it for was tattooing,
retaining my shape, other retrograde amusements.
On the other hand, so to speak, I regret
the resumption of bells, as if I had to prove
that sound could fill the air and cover me
with images I shaped alone. The leaves
continue to drown. Their yellow world
engulfs the street, but light
maintains its embrace, gentle and repressive,
like a resident on the verge of leaving medicine.

Now that everything is finished, I expect
the milk to arrive each morning at a time
convenient only to me. Fascism, yes,
but a tender fascism, the kind we once called ‘law,’
as we looked up silently from our gruel.
How can I move my arms?
I will move them like the rain.
I know that leaves me open to the ancient charge
of dissimulation, and that tiny birds
will make their nests in my shoe.
According to the legend, the birds will breed
a line of different birds, those birds will breed
a line of snakes, the snakes will shed their skin,
and from this skin, a woman someday
will make translucent paper.

What will she draw on the paper?
What will she write on the paper?
What will she do with the paper?
                                                          Eat it.
This is the end of sacrifice.
Burn the words.
Stay in your bed.
The moment remains,
spins out the dream
of its inevitability.
Happy are those of us
caught in its slumber.

Jacket 19 — October 2002  Contents page
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