Two Poems


One time when life was a red-hot disk
burned into my chest, boring through, like it can be,
I went to hear a Buddhist teacher speak who said
some days when she sees random young men
as she waits somewhere, like at a check-out line,
she’s suddenly crippled by grief,
and does not know why the feeling comes
so quickly without warning, why the trigger
is sweat and peach-fuzz, slouched pants,
a body growing exponentially towards
the full unknown. On the walk home
I felt inappropriately relieved
that even those who teach the thick-skulled
of us how to reach for clarity, even they
sometimes have the bones pulled from them.
Relieved that waves of grief
and radiance don’t mean we’re lost
but living. Our responsibility, as they pass
through us, could be just to dilate
the heart, to keep it propped open
with whatever brute obstruction is at hand.



           The Dow throws itself down the stairs.
In the center of town, the merchant of venison
           urgently hawks what hangs inside
his emergency-orange hunting coat. No passersby
           shell out, though the meat’s shrink-wrapped
neatly and labeled by weight to cut the stress
           of haggling.  A red-head who used to teach
golf is planted farther down the causeway
           selling soaked beans. Time used
to be money. There’s at least one
           suicide in the back lot of the Texaco weekly
after the desperados play scratch-offs;
           Russian roulette under a thin skin of silver gum.
Tickets flit from their silent pockets
           to the street. Priests take posts near
the lot’s phone booth for last rites. 
           What are foxes doing?  Is it true they sleep
in pocked dirt? Are chickens
           a natural occurrence? What is essential deer?
Predator of grass? I could not draw one
           if there was a gun to my head.

—Laurel Bastian, Madison, WI