Anti-Ode to Ant Lion
What romantic named you
Pair of mandibles
Nub of body
Like a pencil’s broken tip
In an accountant’s nightmare
No red in tooth and claw
Larva half dormant
In your pit
For the good worker
The selfless one
To fall in a slipshod moment
Into your frantic vortex
Do you even feel hunger
Or just a chemical pulse
Hunkered in dirt
Until the slant of light
To grow your four-paneled
Your lacewing mane
All for your moment in the sky
The Gourmand’s Last Supper
The last delicacy I ate, a small bird
fattened in the dark, drowned in armagnac
the lacework bones breaking inside my skull
cloistered beneath an embroidered cloth
to savor the aroma of my joy
and hide the featherless head singing
between my lips from god
as it fell to the plate
and its organs burst liquored fat
into my mouth, and I tasted the bird’s life
nesting among Moroccan wheat,
the salt air of tumultuous flight
the sweet lavender seeds of France
trickling down my throat the juice
that propels me into the next life
where I walk on bones and feed the cat
looking for home, no song in my heart
Descent to Santa Clara
The skies are empty over the valley today as I descend
the freeway from my mountain home. Not empty, erased
of a few human generations from the smog-brown air.
But over the Lexington Reservoir, black wings circle, enormous—
no, a trick of the eye used to giants in the planeless sky—
just three crows, gliding low, hunting the dead. Peace in confusion.
On campus, quiet, though cars still rumble around the city.
A cart rolling by on pavement mimics a jumbo jet
completing its descent, the expected minute by minute
rise and fall from the tarmac. What price, such serenity?
The sky is empty, and I want to relish the day
when over one nation peace reigns in the air,
when the work of hummingbird and hawk
lifts our heads in reverence. But the sky is filled
with waves of broken glass and the promise of war,
satellites pulsing code that brings the towers collapsing
into a thousand million homes, while in the chapel
piano and cello, polished adobe floors
the ceiling supported above architraves and friezes.
The order offers comfort, the good of creation,
the hope for what is best in the flawed creature.
From out of the chapel into the blue sky,
the empty sky. How will I tell this to you, child?
For a day the sky ruled earth and human once more.
You may never know this silence,
this perfect emptiness, only the price that bought it
to be paid again and again.
By the Museum of Modern Art
A young woman
tanned skin taut
thighs as she walks
a bob slick
sickle curve across her face
the morning street
her hilarity talking
to herself the wobble
of her walk the fifth
of whiskey auburn shimmering
in sunlight as it turns
to her lips
Blood and Breath
For the record, we all ate meat here today,
a poet says, as if claiming some truth
that will connect her to earth, make her
an authority to speak for lesser mortals:
Like you, I too sink my teeth in the corporeal.
So many ways to hold fear
between your teeth in this life—
it comes to us, a burning house,
no need to hunt it out like a blood-
blind dog running through a dark wood,
a scrap of fur-scent caught in its nose,
no master of itself.
For the record, the poet, too,
picks stockyards from her teeth,
an industry of bone and shit.
Speak, then, for the dumb cow
at the abattoir’s mouth:
fear in the blood,
piss running down its legs;
the soft-eyed creature
who loves and nuzzles her young.
Catch your own meat, poet,
grow the beast and kill it, see
if you speak elemental truth
when the flesh you held alive
turns to words in your mouth.
The Sixth Extinction, El Cinco Sol
The sixth extinction
the fifth sun
the millennial dream of death.
Now science defines the fate
religions have dreamed,
six million humans born
each month, more than the twelve
times twelve thousand
in all eternity to be saved.
The sixth extinction
the human-bred destruction:
creatures never categorized
but statistics have theorized
ticking away day by day—
insects, birds, rodents
disappearing, the big herds
fallen under farmland and malls
as human numbers increase,
as mountains in El Salvador
slide to the sea in sudden rains
taking with them concrete, clay,
and corrugated roofs, the people
who lived on their sides
driven by necessity
to cut the trees for a home’s
frame or a flame for food,
and now, displaced, are urged
to sell their days for clothes,
a few comforts, to companies
who export the wood and with it
the world—each trade a jungle
bird, a desert insect
slides into silence.
This is el cinco sol,
another turn of the wheel of Atman
but the myths account for humans
returning, while this story ends
with a lonely race
caught in the net of its cities,
patient earth waiting
in the weeds.
The Calving Age
The latest iceberg, ten times the size of the isle
of Manhattan, has dropped from the Antarctic
coast and slowly drifts from its cold mother,
caught in a digital stream by satellites that feed
the sight to the spellbound who study displacement
of ocean soaring higher than the greatest buildings;
the crack of thunder as the berg broke free
is silent to all eyes, except, perhaps, to a pod
of tourists in refitted ice cutters paying dear
to watch the spectacle of end time’s beginning—
glacial tongues spilling mountain ranges of ice
into warming seas, drifting north to death.
Fantastic ciphers of the future birthed
an ice age ago: listen in the soul for the cracks
and drips, the fracturing of years before
they let loose; imagine the sun-sharpened edges,
the terrible beauty of burning light,
shadow blues of almost night in ice ravines,
the black wall blotting stars over unsuspecting ships,
whose crushed container hulls spill plastic dolls,
engines, land mines, frozen slabs of flesh into southern seas,
while below whales swim around the great body,
feeding on plankton and krill among the cold swirls
of melting ice enough to engulf a city.
Will children pick up shards on southern coasts
to build a house that melts around their play
or carry home in hands, dripping to nothing?
What pity for those in our cars on the coastal
freeway when the waves wash over the road
and we watch through the windshield the sky
grow watery, our thoughts a liquefaction
of desires drifting away from us as our hands
grow light on the wheel, feet drift from pedals,
and seawater fills our mouths, eyes turn to pearls,
bones to coral, and we wonder at those who plot seawalls:
what they wall in and what out, in their final days.
What You Keep, Keeps the Heart of Me
Touch 9 to save for twenty-one days:
the message on your cell has lasted a year.
You listen to it now mostly for tone:
enchantment touching terror
when fire was faced, again.
I called to give you the facts:
the mountain was on fire
not our home this time but forest—
What you kept, keeps the fear in me.
All I remember saying is, no
what I remember feeling was
no, I remember where I stood as…
this time choose what things to save,
a novel form of suffering,
jittery lightness, a stuttering
in the chest where words walled me in
standing on the deck, facing blue skies upwind
from where I knew across the watershed
smoke billowed, a few canyon walls away
fire licked up trees towards neighbors’ doors
(north wind hold steady).
What you keep, keeps the test of me.
I left it on your cell, not a record for the time
but because they wouldn’t hunt for you,
their guests’ privacy to defend
no matter whose mountain burned.
What you keep records the irony.
The first time had to resonate
through digits on the line
(what I kept recalling in the heart of me):
Detroit International white
courtesy telephone please,
voice of the handyman who burned the house down
lashing us to our seats, the fuselage
heading home, to no home, our daughter only three,
too young to fear more than her parents’ fear.
What you kept preserves a mystery.
This time, I had to reassure her—
we passed through smoke and ash together,
swerved a falling branch in flame
speeding up the mountain—
so I put her to work deciding what to keep,
stuffing the car, be ready for wind to shift.
But that’s just history, not as interesting
now for me as imagining you
cradling your phone each time
to save my voice from obscurity
wherever these digits are stored
as long as bills are paid, a button or two pushed
and the signal sent to satellite—wait, I was imagining you
lingering over the suffering of what might be
(kept in the voice of me)
—some pleasure, or assurance, in the calm
measure, you say, of terror in my voice that kindled love but
maybe I should just listen to
what you kept of me.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
The mind searching for distraction
remembers debts owed ten years ago,
a lost lover’s long-fingered touch,
the shape and light of life
lived in the woods of another country
or imagines the day’s work
to be done,
whom to be seen,
whom to shun
all while the body sits
image of composure to an outside eye.
stilled by a breath
the mind lets a flock of birds call through
and surrenders to that rush of wings
or to the sound of the morning’s work
from which the sitter has contrived
this leisure to abstain:
a clear clatter of dishes
water swirling down a drain,
the crack and ring of metal sledge on stone
(as if the mason, his silent flex and sweat of flesh
a ghost in the flickering mind,
is possessed by his labor’s sound),
and for a moment the body is with the world
full of the sound of the wind
shaped by a few trees
and the walls of houses,
the call of a distant cock,
a pleading voice that sings for love
or an end to love’s pain
in the sound of the radio lost
as the church bells ring, again.
Kirk Glaser’s poetry has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and is forthcoming or has appeared in Nimrod, The Threepenny Review, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Cerise Press, Sou’wester, Alsop Review, The Cortland Review, and elsewhere. He teaches writing and literature at Santa Clara University, where he serves as faculty advisor to the Santa Clara Review, and is co-editor of the anthology, New California Writing 2013, Heyday.