Poems of the Week – Greg Rappleye



At the Museum of Whiskey History

I find my dead, sneaking shots of Old Crow
on the line at Kelsey-Hayes–
bootleggers, priests, procession swellers.
Here’s Uncle Ted saying, Cheers to you all,
after beating a black man senseless
behind a blind pig. And there’s Aunt Rose,
fresh from the San, taking it neat,
after hacking a fistful of blood. My dead
drive from the freight yards and Dodge Main,
drunk for the Teamsters and drunk
for Walter Reuther, shattering windows
and tipping over cars.
They marry among the hill folk, who come
rattle-trapping north to work at Ford Rouge.
See their anemic wives–
my aunts with their melon-headed kids.
There’s my mother, retching among the violets
and my father’s foot tap-tapping the rail
after Sunday mass, needing
two shots of Jim Beam before a game of skittles,
the stone sent gliding along the boards,
sawdust parting in its wake.
And in this diorama,
where the warehouse burns
and the whiskey flows in rivers of fire
torching the sumac and yarrow, my dead
toast the flames. My dead fall down.
My dead rise from the ground and sing.


Were We Speaking, Had You Asked

I’d bring you cauliflower
and the leaf tips of artichokes.
Or tiny radishes and
wild fennel, the violet ribs
of chard, shorn of all flesh;
sliced gingerroot, the woody hearts
of parsnips–acidic, astringent.
You might try the leeks:
one end spring green, the other–
forged in mud–
resplendent, bone white.
You might cut through the pulp
of these purple beets,
splay them across wilted
spinach, swirl them
with turnips, pungent mustard
greens, weedy amaranth
or rapini, slightly past its prime,
sauté them all with olive oil
and chopped garlic.
Are they bitter?
That is something best known
at the root of the tongue, where
muscle and blood run thick,
where the nerve ends fire,
fire, fire
at whatever starts to gag,
snapping shut the voice box
and binding the heart to silence.



Naked, I hold my finger to my lips,
eyes wide, the field green and rising
behind me. No horizon, though the air
is honey-lit, wine-lit. Somewhere,
a hive, busy with the tremulous work of bees.
Amid the matted hair of my chest
and the root of my sex,
purple flowers with sea-green leaves
begin to bud, massing where the hair is massed.
And from these, gentians spread across the field,
as the bees work in a peaceful drone
while I keep my finger to my lips,
having dreamed this through those long years
I had nothing to say.


* all poems from Figured Dark, University of Arkansas Press, 2007.

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