2020 Laureates’ Choice - Group Two
A Museum: Steamboat Arabia, Excavated 150 Years After She Sank
A hundred pairs of shoes, a thousand buttons,
a chest of tools, four sets of china – all
this cargo of a boat that lay forgotten,
entombed in river mud, bids us recall
the world of then. The hopeful prairie towns.
Sodbusters, Indian traders, crooks and whores;
the wanderers, the ones who settled down.
Their little luxuries, their winter stores,
lost then, found now: as if the muddy stream
that bore them had become a river freed
of banks and shoals, of floods and snags and years,
and brought them to us whole. As in a dream,
ancestors visit us, entreat us: heed
our voyage, though our vessel disappears.
Prairie Village, Kansas
In springtime, now, when kings go off to war,
We’ve parked cool mobile morgues on river’s edge,
Collected swabs, dressed up, ignored the czar.
First, harm no one! We’re bent to keep our pledge.
Our hands rubbed raw, our masks from yesterday,
We focus still on what is pressing now
And watch the lines go straight and flat and grey
Just like this April sky’s relentless vow.
These people, when they die, they die alone,
Though some do get the chance, if time allows
For us to dial their next of kin at home,
To say goodbye, to give their final bows.
Easter Sunday, but round us only death,
We claim the Time. We watch the final breath.
The Worth of August
In truth I had ignored the worth of August,
Buoyed by its swarmed epiphanies,
Birdsong waves, leaves-and-light hypnotics
Exalting its cacophony of ease.
The tease of everlasting fullness waiting
A grand abeyance breathing paradise
So filled my heartbeats with its unabating
Life, its pores and portholes thick with eyes.
And every tiny world a whole of being,
And every being in one pulsing tide
Of buzz, a branch’s crash, a subtle heaving
Toward what deep? The river roars: Abide—
Its cymbals cloak the silence of the draw,
An arrow looming near one mighty jaw.
Old Lady with No Complaints
The outward qualities already met:
the white hair, glasses, wrinkles, overweight,
the random names I’m likely to forget,
the words for things (like icebox) out of date.
The comfy sweats retirees get to wear?
I live in those, with sneakers on my feet.
Do I look puzzled with a distant stare
as though I needed help to cross the street?
I might be lost, but only lost in thought.
The road not taken troubles me no more.
Amused, I sift the clutter life has brought
and shut the past behind me door by door.
My bit in time seems infinitely small,
its prizes insufficient after all.
Kansas City, Missouri
In the Time of Contagion
Now every day’s the Ides of March. Beware
of hidden daggers readied for a thrust
by those at coughing distance in the air,
and too, perhaps, from someone whom you trust.
Concealed behind a friendly word or smile,
the cloaked contagion’s lurking everywhere.
It waits in liquor stores, a grocery aisle,
a church, a nursing home, the public square.
If tragic playwrights prove a faithful source,
this pestilence shall pass, as time will tell.
All tragedies, we’re told, must run their course.
They always end, though never very well.
I stay sequestered, shuttered in, afraid,
while life unravels and the world’s remade.