Two Poems

CONGREGATION

 

We are six strangers gathered
on a gravel road in the heart
of the valley, waiting, whispering
about the flock of bald eagles
roosting in a distant stand
of cottonwoods. Then it begins:
Hunting low over the open field,
a short-eared owl streaks toward us
out of the setting sun. In this light
his face is an ochre disc, his body
mottled brown and blunt as a stogie,
long wings flashing as he passes,
tilting, listening. Near the road’s edge
where shrubs ripple in the wind
he veers north, dips and zigzags
back over a shadowy fold of land,
calling his congregation to rise
from the grasses. In the late winter
chill, the air fills with their sharp barks,
the bounding predatory swoops
of fierce evening hunger.

 

 

AT LAST

 

–for my brother

 

We could have finished our ongoing game
of Careers abandoned in early1964
after your tenth trip to the moon.
We could have kept singing the score
of Kismet from “Fate” to “Sands of Time”
till we sounded effortless on the harmonies.
We could have remembered the setups
to this scribbled list of punchlines I just found
in a file labeled PHILIP JOKES and we could
have continued our discussion of whether
La Serenata served better clams oreganata
than Mario’s before the old chef retired,
whether ham was better eaten hot or cold,
frankfurters with sauerkraut or cole slaw.
We could have settled whether Dean Martin
was better with or without Jerry Lewis
and which Everly Brother was the heart
of the act. I could have gone to Vegas
with you as you wished before you lost
your sight, before you could no longer walk,
before the years of dialysis, and we could
have seen the latest Elvis. I could have learned
to play pai gow poker, your favorite,
and nursed one rye and ginger till our luck
turned. Then we could have shared a room
again after all these years and as we fell asleep
I could have told you of our mother’s funeral
nine years after yours, her rages lost at last
in thick clusters and tangles of dementia,
her smile and voice equal parts you and me,
calm as the desert night, an ending I felt
neither of us could possibly have imagined.

 

 

 

Floyd Skloot most recent book is the poetry collection Approaching Winter, published by Louisiana State University Press in 2015. His novel The Phantom of Thomas Hardy will be published in 2016 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

 

 

 

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