Justin Runge

Before

Teacher, I finally read the poet you said to

avoid years ago. You must have believed

 

that you were doing me good, thought that

his style was communicable, my immunity

 

not yet built to his simple tricks, to how

he might remove the coins from my ears.

 

And yes, his poems line up like volcanoes

at a science fair—only representations

 

of fearsome things, little boys nearby

eager to provoke a foamy bubbling over.

 

Teacher, you taught me something else:

avoidance, remove. X-rays show us what

 

Vermeer omitted: a dog from the door,

a portrait of Cupid hung behind the girl

 

with her mysterious missive. Here I sit,

exploring the empty corners of canvas,

 

wondering if anyone can author absence.

How the poet caught the click of crickets

 

like a cough, made a mild ruckus, a seance

out of a shaking poplar branch. Teacher,

 

I remember the poet visited our campus

to be celebrated, having then achieved

 

one of the few great honors, while just

next door, trained rats navigated tunnels,

 

tubes, teeter totters—one of our school’s

annual events. Those rats finding nothing

 

but conclusion, something worth eating.

What is complete? This weekend spent

 

waiting for my first child to appear,

calling all the emptiness around me

 

before. But, with every push of the boat

from the shore, I pull the shore along.

 

The book, finished, finds its slim space,

uncataloged, in before’s expanding wings.

 

Teacher, I’m not the same as I was then—

which is ever before—when we chose

 

the scrambling, expectant rats instead.

When quiet was for old men and not us.

 

 

Unison

Let’s say goodbye in unison.

Let’s clap our hands together

like cymbals. Let us be still

in this holy time of year. Let

next year be holier. Let’s say

the favorite words of the dead

master into one another’s ear.

Dark and cold and snow and
so. Let’s hum and harmonize.

Let’s say goodbye in unison.

Let’s try to breathe in unison,

the way new lovers attempt to

synchronize beside each other.

Let’s march to the mansions

of the billionaires, the castles

that were never supposed to be

here. Let’s recite those long,

perfunctory poems, those used

in worship, in unison. Let us

reach for the same library book;

this will lead to a conversation

between us about our passion

for the dead poet whose book

like a wishbone we both hold.

And then let us say goodbye

in unison, like car doors. Let’s

visit a website simultaneously,

breaking it. Let us sit before

the rushing train, our homes

on the other side of it. Let us

be quiet, in unison. Let’s learn

a dance in the distant studio,

we amateurs, a dance to be

learned and not performed.

Let us visit the dead poet’s

grave in unison, so it seems

that we just emerged from it.

Let’s say goodbye to him

in unison. Snow cold, so dark.

Then, together, to the winter,

let’s say goodbye in unison.

 

 

Justin Runge is the author of Plainsight (New Michigan Press, 2012) and Hum Decode (Greying Ghost Press, 2014). His criticism has been featured by Black Warrior Review and Pleiades, and his poetry has been published in Cincinnati Review, Poetry Northwest, Sycamore Review, and other journals.

 

 … return to Issue 12.2 Table of Contents.