Peter Campion

A Brief Portfolio
August 23, 2023 Campion Peter



“Digital streaming, brother, rates of flow in time
and space,” boomed someone in an aisle seat to his neighbor
and plucked a business card: “you need to call this number.”
Rows back, a woman said, with clipped composure,
“no, I was raised in Boise, Idaho. My mother
moved us to Denver for the clinic,” and a thwack
louder and harder than ever before, and then another,
shuddered the fuselage, rattled the plastic cabin
walls, as the boy who’d bellowed “Yankees are the best”
and the Salvadoran man who’d stared past unimpressed,
headphone guy and his girlfriend, the flight attendant
stumbling to catch the drink cart faced ahead
where static spat from the speakers, and no voice arrived
except the loud and constant, crackling voice of static,
like some dissociated sage, some fatalist
calmly reciting principles: “the spirit comes
and leaves, here, there, taking form as animal
or human, as it wants: forever in transit,
everything flows, and every flowing thing evolves
its form in time, and even time is not unlike
a river—neither currents nor hours hold themselves
inside themselves, but as a wave propels the wave
in front, each wave both urged and urging on, so time
escapes from time, and at the same time follows: so
forever flows inside each moment.”
The speaker
clicked off, and the shudders fell to little rumbles.
Most everyone was silent but saying with their eyes
something most everyone understood but no one
was saying. And that guy again: “You need to be
the human capital you need.” Below the wing,
so normal—and also, so improbable,
all the separate places everyone was going
lay in the sectioned sweep of the Front Range.





Driving downtown
with stereo cranked, the sudden
surges when songs cut through you
surging into
stabs at the pedal, and, right now
just look at you:
the distance in your eyes
says you won’t listen.
Oh, Kevin, salmon will
swim the oaks and broncos
stampede the ocean floors
before the world you want
comes circling back, bright
past that held bright future.
From your guitar last night
you pulled arpeggios
so fast—elaborate streams,
then stopped, the pulse you set
still pulsing in silence,
now underlaid by chords,
before cascades of lines again
like a voice that busted free,
and we followed,
though I wonder if you caught
the simpler thing:
while the finale fell, your
guttural “uh” and “uh”
still drove the time into air,
and that was you,
resonant hole against your chest,
right then, right there.





Back here, life falls for moments into place,
the way a couple in the Sands of Time, after their moans,
might catch the thump then stippled drain of surf and feel (both feel)
reprieve: the past has led to this.
Though there’s the other falling.
There’s the snapshot saved twenty years now:
flush with August sun, Steven drapes arms around us,
beams his mime of happiness, though he’ll comb the bars that night
to score the powder he’ll shoot to kill himself.
At the counter for fried clams and ice cream,
a high school girl calls numbers on a speaker.
Parents and kids. Somebody’s walker. Waves.
I come back to the harbor where he lived and want to see him,
want the bonfire when he brought me
the box he made, strips of pages torn from
The Life and Times of Janis Joplin
coating the wood beneath the lacquer,
though all this vanishes, fast as the last long band of sun
following us on water as we drive,
which, I know, doesn’t follow us and doesn’t
vanish, just is—a rolling round again regardless,
a repetition like a lesson:
the fox glove and, look quick, the hummingbird.





Between the Bethlehem United Methodist marquee’s
“Free Trip to Heaven”
and the billboard for
“Your Billboard Here”
this lady holding
cell to ear and wincing at whatever
cockamamie song and dance
when she speaks at last says only
“Yeah, you better”
with such injury and such command
that hers could be
the fundamental grudge and prayer
fragility and strength
affliction and defiance
siphoned to her lips to shape the syllables
“Yeah, you better”
to fling at whomever
might once have pried the gates to
all withheld


while up in the elms that ruffle
Bethlehem United Methodist
cicadas gnaw air





Because those nearly even
hexagons hornets build
from chewed-up wood have sprung


beneath the eaves and because
the lawn’s grown high and weedy
and the rain barrel’s spilled


and seeped to the basement,
there’s its edge of shabbiness.
Inside at least looks clean.


The hardwood, the appliances shine.
The realtor says the sellers
are a couple that split.


Whoever they are, their furniture
barely leaves a sign.
A landscape over the mantle


stands out, though poorly lit:
a two-horse sleigh sweeps past
a small New England town,


the woman, though not her driver,
swiveling back to wave
as the sleigh, in a billow of snow


and torchlight, slices down
to forest darkness trailing
its glimmer of narrative.


Is the woman getting
pulled by her desire
or someone else’s? Is the driver,


shadowy, bending,
her lover? Is the snowstorm
safe, the frozen river?


And if there’s no beginning,
how to be sure of an ending?
At the end of the backyard


with the privacy fence
so high and metal chairs
and fire-pit cool in shade


the whole place seems to breathe,
as if impermanence
quickened yet softened


its contours and betrayed
whoever-lived-here’s dream,
the central, simple core


unknowable but
palpable as pine and ash,
as a mood you remember


some year entirely elsewhere,
another’s words you remember,
whether curse or wish.

Peter Campion is the author of four collections of poetry and of the essay collection Radical as Reality: Form and Freedom in American Poetry. A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize, he teaches in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Minnesota.