Eric Pankey

May 12, 2013 Pankey Eric



The past is a point of departure
But from there it is hard to parse the detour or destination.

Even dust is divisible.
Sand transmutes to transparency.

The distance one travels in a day,
What we call a journey, is as far as the space between words,

The distance between sawhorses that hold up a child’s casket.
In the dream I am myself but somehow vacant or vacated,

Late, or left behind, unable to fit the little I’ve brought again into the duffle.
Synonyms, not the words I need, at hand.

Evening river.
A ladder of fire extinguished one rung at a time:

The yellow of buckthorn berry, burry hatchings on goldleaf.
The tense of pain is the present.

Like a deer cornered by a pack of hounds, the now freezes.
Something has happened. Something is about to happen.

Although I cannot see beyond it, the window frames an exterior.
What if there were no frame,

No scale, no lens, no vantage point, merely a grid set down?
Although the sound is muted, I can see the actress speaks with a lisp.

Who are these storm-drenched castaways?
Where is this island forged from magma?

I imagine the soundtrack might offer a counterpoint to the narrative’s murk,
But the commercials come on at such a volume I can’t face it.

We all have failures over which to brood.
These acts, ritualized, have lost their savagery and are now symbolic,

And even the antecedents of the symbols have been forgotten.
How does one measure the year:  the threshers unpaid? Spring floods?

Ice cutters on the river? Ice cluttered on the river?
The car won’t start?

What comfort to think that the great beast
Will be thrown into a lake of fire,

That a story, however picaresque, resolves on the final page,
As quaint as that may seem.

Sometimes I feel like one of those castaways—
Shipwrecked, stranded, marooned—

With a single blade, a length of rope, wishing I knew a few more poems by heart,
Knew how to start a fire, knew how to spin thread.

That river I mentioned, evening river I called it:
No way to map it except to map the history of its meanders.

We know the prophetic in retrospect,
Thus renumber the thousand stars

So that the lines connecting them
Equal hyena trampled by zebra or hero filching fire from the gods.

Luckily, nothing is impervious to interpretation—
Afterthoughts, premonitions, the slimmest hunches.

This morning, I recalled an old love, fondly, as one should,
Without the what-if. Recall is perhaps the wrong word.

Slightly out of focus, between the gaps and lacunae that riddle memory,
I saw her face, or rather a look she’d give me sometimes

That meant to me then bewildered affection,
As if already she could imagine her life beyond me.

One rarely recalls the looks on one’s own face.
In the mirror all one can do is pose,

Attempt a pose that looks unposed.
“Allegories,” Walter Benjamin writes, “are in the realm of thought

What ruins are in the realm of things.”
Things, unlike thoughts, are mute, but read as signs,

Shimmer and echo, replete in their articulations,
Or so it seems as the cedar waxwings worry the holly berries each year.

In Bruegel’s “Procession to Calvary,” starlings wheel
Above the crowds that gather at the gallows.

Hard to tell what all the day has in store for them,
Which is the good thief and which the bad.

The windmill perched upon a cliff,
(what could its function be at that height?)

Draws our eyes up to a single storm cloud.
My father would light a cigarette while one still smoked

In the ashtray, gray ash lengthening before it fell.
More often than not he had two or three cigarettes going at once.

I would watch the smoke go from slack and slumped
To thin and taut—improbable architecture of curlicues,

Tangles and arabesques—as it unraveled itself into nothing.
Hard to pick Jesus out amid that crowd.

A horse skull anchors the painting’s lower right corner.
I stand up too quickly, feel dizzy,

Hold onto the library bookshelf until I find my balance.
Or I turn a corner in a hurry and knock

Someone’s grocery bag from her hands.
I apologize sincerely and somehow she hears my words,

Hears them and makes sense of them
(that is, it seems, the miracle: that I am a body, not a ghost;

That I make embodied words, not ghost-sounds).
I make small talk as I kneel to pick up a head cauliflower,

Three limes, and a flat tin of minced clams.
Sometimes I step out into traffic

To hear the tires screech, the horns held.
Hard to recall a time when gravity did not welcome my next step.

Now, as then, sleep leans against the door like a dog waiting to be let in.
It is summer. The half-framed-in new construction seems transient:

Parched August straw in a back-draft,
Stick houses passing car might tumble.

The heat jangles where the road dips,
A mirage darkened with reflection.

Unwilled, the present leaks into the past, tinctures it.
A poem is not a séance and yet how quickly the shades crowd in

Expecting elegy and lamentation.
The moon subtracts zero from zero.

Like an invisible ink one heats to legibility,
The poem reiterates the spent, the long lost, what I tend to call

The nameless haunt of the irremediable,
Yet I go on naming it, nonetheless,

And inter it in words.
I forget just when I started relying on bad memory as an alibi.

Eric Pankey is the author of many collections of poetry, most recently AUGURY (Milkweed Editions 2017). He has a book of poems, a book of prose poems, and a collection of essays all due out on 2019.