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Sample Poems by Rob Griffith
The War at Home
For Tiffany and Barney
From the house, I watch our dog, a boxer-mix,
Smile up at me with gums unslung and black.
He yawns then wanders off, his fur sleek brown
Against the grass, to find his nemesis,
A young hydrangea bush against the fence.
Like fireworks, its purple corymbs burst
Among its dark and pinnate leaves, the throats
Of every floret paper pale. Today,
Like every day this spring, the dog leans in
And hikes his leg. Within another month,
The shrub’s green strength will start to fail, its leaves
Limp and pallid. For the dog, this is war,
Or duty, or maybe even love, but nothing
That the dog can do will kill the plant.
Farther back in the yard, the oak’s broad leaves
Make green eclipses of the sun and starve
The grass and milkweed around its roots. Above,
Wisteria garrotes the chestnut tree,
And near the door, the ants dismantle roses,
Each crimson bit carried down the bricks
Like waterfalls of pixels. The dog walks on,
The bright hydrangea petals now wet lace,
While spring is sharpened on the sky’s hard lathe.
Your birthday’s come around again, and I
can think of nothing but those 33s
collecting dust behind the stairs. Fading,
their cardboard jackets hold a thousand ghosts—
the brooding bands, standing with arms crossed
in front of brick walls or railroad tracks
that needle-off to infinity; moonscapes
in psychedelic reds, blues, and black;
the denim jackets, the moused hair, the scowls,
the desert landscapes. They wait in the silence cast
by all the years. And I wish I could rise
above the clouds, above this disc of stars
and dust, and gently lift the needle up
and back. I’d let it slip into the groove,
that first song yawning out a sunrise,
the vinyl night spinning down to nothing.
And every time, before that last track ends,
I’d lift the needle yet again, content
to hear these same old songs, desperate
to avoid the hiss before they play, or after.
You sit in bed, back bowed like a fishing pole
taut against a heavy catch. The pose
is one I always mistake for sorrow, pain,
or despair. I touch your arm, cool and smooth,
and ask, “What’s wrong?” You surface slowly,
shedding the dark water of your prayer
before opening your eyes and smiling archly.
You’d think I’d know by now that every night
you take your small boat out to the deep waters
and cast your line. And all the while, I pace
the shingle, ignoring the lap and click of waves
against the stones, ignoring all that moonlight
trembling on the bay. Instead, I watch
for that black wake that signals your return.
For a Young Husband Going Deaf
Bird-like, he tips his head from left to right,
But knows he heard it wrong; among the bins
Of apples, pears, and grapes, there’s little chance
His wife had palmed a tomato and said,
“You plump young Cato, so sick with sin.”
Likewise, at church on Sunday, he’s pretty sure
The preacher hadn’t risen, spread his arms,
And blessed the congregation with a cryptic,
“Your meat is bun-ready. Go forth and cockfight.”
The words, like worlds with orbits too elliptic,
Fall into outer darkness, a cold expanse
Where meaning cannot follow. And his wife, uncharmed
By his ceaseless bafflement, shakes her head
And mutters, “Gabriel shave me, distend a cure.”
In the Kitchen
It’s a minor juggling act—in one hand
a chicken breast as ice-slick as any stone
beside a winter stream; in the other,
a fistful of fresh carrots for the soup;
and on the counter, a cutting board, knife,
and pot. As if preparing for the toss
or measuring their weights, I raise one hand
and then the other. What to drop or hold?
And here’s where all the metaphor kicks in,
where I can’t help but chain this simple still-life
to something more profound. I place the chicken
on a plate then chop the carrots, thinking
of all I hold against the stream of time:
love, friends, career—even the present itself.
It’s all too much for hands and a heart that grieves.
Then you burst in, smiling and smelling of rain,
and your umbrella sheds perfect stars
all over the kitchen. Decisions disappear
like steam above the soup, and light reflects
from every pot and every darkened window.