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Sample Poems by Paul Bone

Dressing Room

Used to be kids would run through smoke
thick as stage curtains.
Ashtrays, unobtrusive as scene props,
accompany the crumpled packs
in all the unprepared-for shots.

It's all minimalism now,
skinny, silver laptops,
everything tucked and transparent,
all our scraps of paper and errata
bookmarking the vaults
of the family Bible on the shelf.

There may be one unvented room
with wardrobes hung on iron pipes,
once a bedroom, a place to sew,
now some mirrorless space of preparation
where the air sits white and stratified,
a dusty bobbin on the Singer
and a workup of a lung
draped on the throat plate.


His method was indifferent and articulate.
From the coop in the garage, he carried
a hen with one hand around her neck,
arm cradling her belly so she wouldn't kick,
her head above his brown jersey glove
like a good white mushroom sprung overnight.

Under the spruce tree, feathers
from other mornings were scattered and stamped.
He let the hen hang from his hand
and spun her at his hip like a man
winching up a secret from a well.

Her neck snapped and the body broke free,
bouncing over the frozen lawn
like a palsied marionette,
head warm still in the glove,
crescent moon pale through the branches
like the knife the boy thinks
you are supposed to use for this job.

He took off his gloves, went to the house,
came back with a bucket of steaming water,
plunged her in so the quills
loosened and eased out of the skin,
that quick bath and undressing,
like a ritual of cleansing reversed.

He chopped off her feet and slit her belly
to remove the intestines, liver, heart,
and gizzard, his favorite part.

New feathers lay wet and pink
at his feet, and he drove her body
into the water again, rinsing it as steam
rose toward the wide fan of branches.

Later, at the dinner table,
the boy pinches the tab of fat from a drumstick,
tries to hide it under the bones,
the napkin, burying it, bird-essence,
like a dark crystal of knowledge, some secret
about the body going on and on in its separations.


In Illinois, where topsoil shoves itself
down to hell's ceiling for all we know,
you go out on the rain-sheeted grass
after June thunderstorms with a flashlight,
coffee can, soft shoes, and your father.
It's best to start under a pine's low branches-
moisture lingers longer there, which they like.

You must imagine that your feet
are quiet animals sliding through wet woods
at night with death or food on their minds.
Stomp your feet, tap them, and a worm
will shoot back down its hole
with a sound like a kiss heard from another room.

They come up from their blind circuitry
to lie fat and brown, nearly orange
under the lightning's flash and pulse.
The coffee can warms in your right hand,
three inches of dirt crumbled finely
so they can start digging once they're in.

Your father sits on his heels, holds up
his hand and lowers it in a slow dream of snake-strike.
He is good, patient as he waits for them to relax,
talking them out, stretching them to the threshold
of separation until finally they come out whole.
Many fathers disappear into couches
or taverns or the strange kitchens of other women,
but for now you watch amazed
as this worm the two of you will use for bait
slips out of its hole like thorns
he's pulled from your palm for years.

LP Tank

Docked zeppelin of the country trailer yard,
eunuched bull enduring tribes of dirty kids
kicking its flanks. Comical, like a hippo under a derby.
You still see it if you drive out
past the last sewer pipe and water main
to the mounded septic grass and the cracked well cap.
Squat as a bomb, its valve hood
houses sparrows' nests woven of cigarette filters,
willow sticks, and cotton balls.

Because it was the Russians and tornadoes
we practiced for, hunched in front of our lockers,
and because we passed the fallout signs
as we descended the steps
to the cafeteria with crumpled lunch tickets,
they never scared us even as the grownups
sat smoking in lawn chairs
and the bottle rockets went arcing up
and popped above as sparks fell
in the shapes of the blasted seed heads of dandelions.

Out there, among the unannexed, it was always
a matter of putting things in other things,
the trucks of odorized natural gas,
of diesel and gasoline to top off the taller,
leggy tanks hitched near the barn.
We were marooned from the grid
and agreed grudgingly to our resupply
with checkbook and ballpoint,
never worried that our only tether might lift
us up out of the earth.

Field of Horses

Because at 13 I liked
the idea of war
and whittled punji stakes
in the ravine behind
our house, I had reinvented
Uncle Denny, stringy lumberjack
and door gunner on a Huey,
as a Seal or Green Beret
slipping through ancient teak groves
as he had threaded his way
over stacks of firs and pines in Washington.
The VC whispered stories
of him around their small fires
or in the tunnels, thought of him
as a woodland demon.

He said farmers sometimes
begged to be killed
as the rotor wash
beat the grass flat.
When I asked him
how they got water,
he said, "poured out your boot.
It was the Mekong Delta."
When he came home,
someone he met there
shipped him drugs.