In the desert of every heart there’s a motel
where you leave the numbered door open at night
to allow the random sphinx moth or stranger
to float in with blue light from the swimming pool,
like spirits, if spirits had flesh and were still spirits.
One, with a body perfect
as a busted-up cowboy
glued back together again,
enters to tell you the story of your life
like it was his very own.
Though the story is all wrong
in every detail, he’s right
about the solitary nature of life:
Every damn one of us comes from a place far away
as nowhere, traveling to each new no-place
to be missed, an ongoing kind of death wish.
And as much as you want him
to turn you into a country song, he won’t
call this motel love, won't call it loneliness.
How Memory Kills
A random story of an ancient Greek poet comes to me just as a fighter
jet cruises fifteen miles overhead
in this the least Greek town imaginable, at this, the least Greek bar in
the world, if they even had bars, the Greeks that is.
The blue twilight could be Greek, without the jet of course, except the
fact they apparently didn’t see blue—the sky was bronze; honey,
green; oxen, purple.
In any case, I’m bellied up, getting wasted on tequila, thinking of this
poet at a symposium, which was something like a Greek gay bar
but with more talking, philosophizing.
Most likely he was recumbent on a sofa, blitzed from imbibing that
piney wine they call retsina, and offering ninety-nine words for
love, when the pillars came tumbling down in a temblor, killing
all his friends.
Soon he could not remember any of them and cried, This is grief worse
Eventually he started to recall all the architectural details of the hall:
the orders of columns and pilasters, cornice, tympanum, the frieze with
bas-reliefs showing the gods in better times.
He then reconstructed in his mind the room with all of the furniture,
and slowly the dead began to return, laughing and calling to each
other across the space.
I start memorizing each mesmerizing neon beer sign, the length of the
bar, the wood it’s made from (oak), the swinging doors, ceiling
beams, glass-block windows,
wondering if I will be the one lucky or unlucky enough to be left to remember
the dead if the jet falls on this place, deus ex machina,
from the bronze sky.
And though no one here has yet spoken to me of the sweet, green nature
still something like love arises bronze-bright and clear amid the purple
terror of forgetting.
Seven Fish, Three Trees, Two Men
Maybe numbers are invisible, but look
over there, seven
fish swim in the uncountable water, watched
by one man seated alone in the shade of three trees,
though none the same—oak, ash, beech.
We sense numbers in our breath,
in a line of poetry, a measure of music
running through our heads.
The truth of, say, zero, negative two, or
algebra is outside of us and all of nature,
yet somehow the absence of the man who used to come
with him is more present than the school of fish
he is watching, and the vision of the two of them,
the one gutting and filleting iridescent trout,
and then wiping his hands and the reddened blade
on his dungarees, while the other works on
a crossword puzzle,
dwells solidly in the negative space of the trees.
If he could compose the right words in a line,
or come up with an elegant equation, he’s sure
he would have him back. But numbers and death are
different undercurrents of this world filled with trees,
fish, people, and so many water and so much words.
The Prodigal Dad
Like the sacrificial bull he always thought he was,
he returned garlanded heavily with opiates,
no less strung out than the day he headed off.
No bunting, no festoons, no celebration ensued.
One of the kids popped a wheelie on the ATV.
They hardly knew him, except for the brooding.
Some say he saw his grown son standing there in the sun
as the living word, as the shining sword that would one day slaughter him,
and grew so afraid he took a hoe used for snakes and struck the boy down.
Some say the son walks, a phantom among us;
others say a stranger flew out from the gas station across the road,
that he hid him for three days and nights in the dusty crack of river,
that they lived on dew gathered from cactus leaves,
that he healed the fatal wound at his temple,
that they found sanctuary on the freeway,
that it was a miracle, and the father lived on,
trapped in this parable, like an insect in amber.
Greg Hewett is an associate professor of English at Carleton College who teaches creative writing workshops and courses in modernism. Coffehouse Press has published three of his collections of poetry—Red Suburb, The Eros Conspiracy, and darkacre—with a new volume—Blindspot—published in November 2016. He has received Fulbright fellowships to Denmark and Norway and has been a fellow at the Camargo Foundation in France.
These poems are reprinted by permission of Coffee House from Blindsight (Coffee House Press, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Greg Hewett.