letter to tarin kot, & other poems

I. letter to tarin kot

1200 days in solidarity
,4 autumns watching leaves turn:
princeton, rust, canary
with boots pulled off and on

.i haven’t tired
of the same tea
filling the same cup
,though i wish you’d tuck my hair
behind my ear

just as you wish
i would forget to close the blinds
,to consider inviting in the sky

.beaver moons, pink moons
arching near and away
,perennial reminders that for me
we are merely who we were
years back,
bargaining time into train tables

i call you and cry out for you
with passerine care
,deep in my mythologies
,restless in a summer bed
and i am afraid the trees won’t turn

.i am afraid tonight 
the wolves won’t want to be wolves
,howling love from their throats
,harmonizing loneliness

,indifferent cold time creeps unyoked
against my naked finger
,how i steeped dunes damp mornings
under dawn’s seclusion
one summer back
,sand stuck to all but my reflection
,thinking of faith, of freedom
,palms unable to touch-
then landed among pines: ice again

.here i am no closer to you
and your american dream

.trees don’t tend to my ruminations
.crickets sing anyways.


II. maui prince

this syndrome
is a stale loaf of bread 

.upon a footbridge, watching koi
,mouths agape
,fins rippling wider 
the rings of wake around weathered stones
,i offered my scraps

.every toss a fist full of manna

.when i didn’t have crumbs
i cast out empty hands
as if to throw my longings back

.to the fish
i seemed a panhandler 
begging above open jaws
to feel valuable

.when i learned they drained the ponds
i thought of myself 
standing on the bridge
and of coins leaving
my fingers
on one or two occasions 
,but mostly
,i thought of hollow, sky-stretched palms 
and felt ashamed

.three years on
and little has changed for me

.the fish, i hope
,do not forgive this. 


III. ms. chayka

i had dreams
parts of my body
were decomposing

when i woke
my toes were cold
and the plums had rotted in the kitchen

like the flowers, the fruits died
from outside first
skin bruising as petals fell

i lie awake
wondering which of my nails
will chip first


IV. creekwood

picidae first alight among sugar maples
set striking skin, husk, and seed
now aloft, soaring  
,woven trunk to trunk

then vanished, hair after noon
above the conococheague
sailing south towards 
the mouth of the river


V. creekwood II

what killed you?
what wrung the water from your hair?

.salt water, sandy water,
flowing from your place of birth

a taste you still remembered 
when wine replaced rivers

.below catoctin, south mountain, edges of blue ridges
,you wade in the potomac, the chesapeake
,in tributaries whose names know neither map nor mouth
and come out drenched and alive

.else, float face-down facing your consequences
knees nevertheless made muddy
,leaves and twigs collected in your curls.


VI. palisades

post and pre war new york state, two lane highway:
color as far as we could see
,color miles up the mountains 
,a mismatched maze
.no speak of pines or widow-makers 
.no hiawathas
.no fawns taking their first steps
.what to call a fluid habitation 
,territory of take-no-notice
? “place your stakes where you must
,tired siwasher
,but home
is having your side of the bed
not where using a towel
makes it your towel
”between white sheets on the upper east side
and shivering in a shack 
above the conococheague
i choose the cicadas
,the warblers 
,the branches bent and broken
.rich, fragile-
reminds me of glass. 


VII. philadelphia

the keystone rail marks station stops
across southern pennsylvania 
.in the library car i am bitter-

evening receding into lists
,lackings of this and that, tasks
all impatience

.sunday sighs 
brief refuge 
against steady worry
,saturday leaves me unchecked

,asks: which pit
compels me to wade into tall grass
,to stumble beneath trees in the dark

?which currant crushed between pale gums
turned the whole boxcar sour?


VIII. atlantic city

saltwater dialysate
curbs my losses

.salt air
rises the bread

.summer spent in effort
to climb stairs
beyond the alley
,panting up fourteen boards
reeking of warm tar

.then, the roof-
waves white specks
propped on deep blue, sand

a thin filament
bridging land and water

,the ocean another ocean

.shattered clams, scattered chips
,carnage tips over the edge of the boards. 


By Mackenzie Riford