D. Nurkse

Three Poems
May 23, 2023 Nurkse D.

Her Vast City


Our lives are so brief, she says,
shorter than a moth’s or a gnat’s,
over before I finish this sentence.


But no, he disagrees. Vaguely
he feels there must be a way forward.


They are lying in the untucked bed
in Canarsie, in scorched August,
sheets itchy with caraway seeds,
pillow sour from spilt Schlitz.


The fan drives a faint wheeze but no air.


It’s the past: they sense it in their teeth
like a Stax Volt horn riff
from a stalled milk truck..


There must be a path, he whispers
and touches her wrist.
But she has turned to the wall.


I am writing this story, he insists,
but when she closes her eyes
every street in the world goes dark.




The Holding At Gihon River


The child drew the house
where we raised her long ago.


With a blunt yellow pencil
she sketched a lit window,
with a nub of red chalk
she scratched an open door.
You could stoop in the hall
that smelled of Butcher’s Wax
and doze on the mud room sofa
listening to early spring rain
which the child made from glitter
and a dab of Elmer’s Glue.
A square of blue felt
was the long boreal night.
She scissored a rip for the moon.
By then we had grown old:
how would she make time?
Glop of gray spindled tape?
Wisp of string too short to knot?
No, she erased the foundation
and blew away pink dust.


Now the forest is blank
but you can trace the indentation
where she pressed so hard.


Tell me, is love strong as death?
Less strong? Stronger?


The whoosh of the river
is our breath in a dream.



The Night Wind


I saw they were all performing. The infant in the crib: watch me pule and mew! The solicitous parent–see my burden of care! Their minds were elsewhere. Where was elsewhere?


The lovers roll apart dreaming of waffles. The old man in his chair cups his hand for a red bouncing ball.


Where is the hand that threw it? Why that faint smell of burnt sugar?


I myself fell asleep a child and woke in a narrow bed at Mary Magdalene. My forehead was marked as if with a brand. The mirror stared at me, with a look of frozen astonishment, then winked. A constant pain, perhaps deliberately mild, prodded me in one direction or another–toward the bedpan or that blue buzzer no footstep ever answers.


I rose and padded down a waxed corridor, surprised I could walk. Voices of nurses wafted from the Rec Room. There were no other patients. I came to a door marked Triage.


A keypad. I typed in my birthday, my lucky number, our anniversary. Nothing. I keyed in a random sequence. The door flew open.


There we were: the long street, a few passersby, faces bent against  impending rain, the family struggling to shield the child, a blown-out umbrella, the trees lifting, lifting, the wind from the other world.


D. Nurkse‘s latest poetry collection, A Country of Strangers, a “new and selected,” was published by Knopf in 2022.