Winter Undertow

Winter Undertow

Round fire in its tent of sticks shedding chalk and cold
on the edging of my pillow.

So sad. All I can recall is no one to hold me.

After all my skin-chafing labor with the adze, the struggle
to haul your coffin across the river—

cracking and lowing like a barge
in the deep, bleeding furrow
closing in on itself—

your severed arm gone ghostly limp,
flailing like a wave crest along the bank

beneath the claxons of a migrating goose flock
beneath blurrier migrating stars.

The naphtha supermoon, all stains…

You once tried to pull me out
of drenched sheets, the forbidding liquid glow.

I couldn’t take the trouble to speak or sleep or call out,
undergoing revolution in so many districts
of my paralyzed mind;

fish biting at my joints, my lungs
filling, expelling, sinking,

under all those lights
floating in the blur: the dead, the living,
the yet-to-be.

Maybe, spared a little time to cry

outside, I’ll look back
through the scrim of our existence together

for the meaning that lives on
in the stream of our being, these raw hands
reaching through time and night

as through lifeless smoke rising
to meet the burning breath of arctic firs.

But what if I forgot
to give my heart to the river?

This, after all, is the loneliest planet.

So I stole a glimpse
of your ice-ribbed torso
through a crack

in the blackout shades
overlooking this cavernous street
of slush and salt,

this soggy, wrinkled page.

Now I may never come home.

Stephen Massimilla is a poet, scholar, professor, and painter. His multi-genre coauthored Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo Press, 2016) won the Eric Hoffer Award and many others. His new poetry collection, Frank Dark, is forthcoming from Barrow Street Press; and he is coeditor of the forthcoming anthology, Stronger than Fear: Poems of Compassion and Social Justice. Massimilla’s Previous books and awards include The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat (SFA Press Prize); Forty Floors from Yesterday (Bordighera Prize, CUNY); The Grolier Poetry Prize; a Van Rensselaer Prize, selected by Kenneth Koch; a Salmon Run Press Poetry Book Award citation, selected by XJ Kennedy; a dissertation on myth in poetry; several Pushcart Prize nominations; and other honors. He has recent poems in AGNI, American Literary Review, Chelsea, Colorado Review, Denver QuarterlyGulf Coast, The Literary Review, Poetry Daily, Poet Lore, Provincetown ArtsThe Southern ReviewTampa ReviewVerse Daily, and hundreds of other journals and anthologies. Massimilla holds an MFA and a PhD from Columbia University and teaches at Columbia University and The New School.

[image: Flock of Snow Geese (Chenhyperborea hyperborea) flying past rising full moon at dusk on winter evening | Paul Souders | WORLDFOTO]

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