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Richard Jackson


Even before I began there were reluctant images
on my walk across the Chickamauga Battlefield

trying to find their way out of what is to come,
———like opening a folded map,
———————————————one thing
followed another like the crows circling that hawk
seeming to become fighter planes,
—————————————–or the gliders
my father helped me build those years when
he could still remember my name,
—————————————–but how
connect all this, and what about

—————————————the stink bug
crawling over a TV screen
——————————–on which children are
playing with toy swords scripted by one of their
countless video games,
—————————or those burning images
sputtering on the computer
——————————–which takes me to a house
without its roof and above
——————————–it a hesitant moon shrouded
by lingering smoke
———————–from a drone strike that has
the man at what is left of the cellar window,
gorilka from a dented tin cup left over from
the last attack,
——————while still so many shadows are
looking for their bodies
—————————as in the slightest wind
one still hears a few names still wandering
their old haunts
——————-calling out the names of flowers,
of birds,
———or of that one love whose impression
still waits on the blood soaked mattress behind him

which brings us to what all this was trying to
———the riverbed rocks of the Bakhmutka River,
and a pocket watch with no hands as if to say
about how little time we have
————————————as now a ripple from
a passing body washes over it,
————————————how the smallest
image or memory explodes,
————————————and how a curious cat
washes itself in the endless current with hardly
a glance at the watch face which meant
———————————————as little to it
as those rocks streaked with minerals and eons

because by this time I am wondering what else is
lurking behind these words
——————————–that is so hard to face,
that arrive like stray bullets,
——————————-or like the way
the other day, thinking of these refugee-like images,

it is impossible to say what is now and what memory,
a fear really, that my past would dissolve like my father’s,

like surface roots that tease with unnamed messages

or the wind teasing the matted leaves
———————————————to reveal
what lies beneath, a wind my father called
God’s Breath
—————-though it was William Paley, 1802,
who said God was just a watchmaker who
winds it up and walks away,
———————————-but I cannot walk away,
still trying to make connections because for me,

wondering if it is wrong to simply wonder at
the simple presence of the deer feasting on sweet grass,

or the racoon scurrying along, hardly aware of me,

where the regiment markers stood through
the crosshairs of bramble
—————————and where a coyote
had chased a shivering rabbit,
that image of the drone over Bakhmut
hunting for hidden trenches and foxholes

and maybe for that man,
————————–still leaves the problem: to decipher
what all these flashing images have to do with me,—

for I feel like my father in his last years when
a few pigeons rose up like a dream
——————————————and he raised
a few syllables for words he could not find,
staring off to where
———————-he must still be wandering
in our old woods,
———————-refusing to hunt,
—————————————–even after
years in his own war,
—————————puzzling over the path
that brought him there,
—————————–or maybe those woods,
whose trails are crossed by spider filaments,

whose fields are lined with bales of hay
in the shape of cannon wads,
———————————–images that keep
bringing me back to Bakhmut
————————————before those images,
already starting to sign out of this poem,
lose all connection,
———————–like first stars now almost
too far to see but still connecting us to our own
————–like those deaths too far to understand,
too close not to feel,
————————and I remember how in Virgil’s
Aeneid, a king, needing to carry his infant over a river,
ties her to a spear and throws her across,
Virgil’s poem to continue,
———————————which gives me time
here to connect these settings trying desperately,

while the cicadas underground are already preaching
their own deaths,
——————-to pray for what is happening
to a river town
——————-and to a man, taking his watch
at his cellar window,
——————-in a present he calls the future
and for father whose future was buried in his past..


Author of 17 books of poems, and a dozen of interviews, essays, translations and anthologies, Richard Jackson is winner of Guggenheim, Fulbright, NEA and NEH Fellowships, and the Order of Freedom from the President of Slovenia. He teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts.



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