The Pogrom

 
 
          There is smoke rising from the small valley
          where terrible things are burning—rafts of hard wheat,
          rooftop shingles, the dress you wore
          for a hundred yesterdays, crisp on the washline
          and twice as golden,
 
          a thousand arrogant indecisions
          that didn’t lead you to flee
          are torched and dampened with dew.
          The prayers you whispered at daybreak and nightfall
          are coals ripe as berries beneath your feet
 
          and all of your letters and your book of poems
          are blossoming their magnificent ash on the wind.
          Now three black plums wither in your pockets
          like old rocks. The river of dancing carp
          you used to cross to watch the stars
 
          is a stuttering puddle of stones.
          The willow where you lay as a child
          sleeping beneath clouds is spent with flame
          and now you and your only hanky
          are frozen beneath its dry black flint.
 
          Take this map and run into the silver forest
          through the scree until all you can hear
          is the lap of water clean as light.
          Bend yourself into a canoe
          and slip into the sea
 
          with no more than the sound of one pebble
          or the tip of a curlew’s wing on the wave.
          Practice tying your one blanket into a snare
          or a noose in case you have to meet land again.
          If you must sing, do so in silence,
 
          so the ancient songs awaken only you.
          The sky will collect you sooner
          than the smoke clears from the village;
          gathering you by tenderly reading
          the fortune of your forgotten name.
 
 
 

The Agreement

 
 
          At first there was only food and water
          and maybe a little television on the off days.
          We slammed the four walls thinking new kisses
          and barstools, thinking pickup trucks and ginned texts,
          thinking trap me in an elevator, thinking swallow me whole
          to the first glancing stranger holding the highest bar
          on the metro until his pecs heaved or her breasts winked
          in the clacking haul between stops. Longing
 
          jammed in jean pockets leaking its inky longing,
          want crawling across the floor like a spent hooker,
          words whispered to the kind of lovers
          that thumbed rides on the backs
          of our hearts. Of course in our other lives
          there were palaces and there was greed
          and there were troughs on the ground
          full of cut black potatoes
           
          and there were bruised ripe peaches
          for fattening our delectable swine,
          there were orchards always in blossom
          and wine on the table
          and small piles of quail bones
          picked clean as blown eggs
          and there were four-postered canopies
          and a certain kind of fucking
          and ways we learned to make ourselves laugh
          by pulling our own hair in just the right way
 
          but all of it was pleasantries because then we were lost
          in terrible palindromes blinking the same kind of loneliness.
 
          And so we called. We came to each other the way newborns
          shimmy the mother’s tummy to find milk
          before they know crawling will be invented.
          And when it sprayed us for the first time
          through the pinpricks found in nipples
          and the black sheets of the universe,
          then we could dream it, a thousand blades of grass
          bent beneath us. How we’d missed it. How we knew
 
          to hold it when we finally found it, wet and singing,
          here where even the bowls of our elbows
          were waiting. It has been so long, love.
          Stay. Keep me close. Cover my eyes
          until only our light escapes.
 
 
 
 
 
HEATHER ALTFIELD currently teaches Composition and Honors courses on Beauty at California State University, Chico. Her recent and forthcoming publications include poetry in Narrative Magazine, North American Review, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, ZYZZYVA, Superstition Review, Rattle, The Squaw Valley Review, The New Guard, and others. She is a member of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and is currently at work on a second book.