Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 Fourth-Place Winner: "Spook Distance" by Temple Cone

Temple Cone is the author of three books of poetry: That Singing, The Broken Meadow, and No Loneliness. A professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy, he lives in Annapolis, Maryland.

Spook Distance
by Temple Cone


Wintering ducks
scatter from waters below the seawall
when I run by,
            spooking, spooked.

So have you, Lord, fled my very presence.


Ten miles a day, fifteen—
I run so I won’t need bourbon,
fatigue a lighthouse
guiding me
through rough waves. 
Hell is
when I cannot tire myself enough
and must go to bed
sore, drunk,
and waiting for the light.


No, hell is more
like an equation
you study so closely
it seeps into your marrow,
except in the case of hell
it’s not the quadratic you’re learning,
but how you truly are
a sonofabitch,
how, if sonofabitches like yourself
were desirable
commodities, like copper or wheat,
and there were a market
to dealing in them,
with brokers, a stock exchange,
and daily market reports,
you’d have it cornered.


Samuel Beckett
says only one

of the crucified thieves
was saved. Maybe I

ought to stop
reading Beckett.


you who can,
as through a veil
of pine woods
and drifting snow,
find the me that is me,
when will you begin
to (gentle
as wind’s breath
or the light
of dead stars) have mercy
for the guilty,
for the broken-hearted?


When every blade offers
a window onto the sunset,
a friend invites me
to stay in NYC
as long as needed.
When the bus lurches forth,
a black highway
stretching behind,
my only company is an iPod
full of Te Deums and Magnificats.
And when I scroll through
the playlists,
the ticking in my earbuds
is worrisome as a bad heart.


On the subway,
I hear a battered man
from the effort
to hold his madness close:
Everyone, I am
fallen hard
and could use any comfort
you might spare.
          Like the rest,
I turn my eyes away, thinking
how vile I am
for the little I’ve done
to help lives not my own,
a thought that consoles
because it asks me
to do nothing at all.


E.M. Cioran says
every book is a suicide
       Yeah, maybe
I ought to stop
reading Cioran, too.


At the Cloisters,
on a stone wall, a torso
of Christ curves at the hip
like a bow,
the unseen arrow
lodged in my heart.
Even if I could disavow,
Lord, my love
of beauty,
sacrifice it unto you,
I could not help
but see the lovely brow,
the face more present
for being lost.


Dawn, leaving
the third-floor walk-up,
I meet a slate-and-white pigeon
on the street
         who flutters
a little beyond me,
but doesn’t fly away.


Finally, I stand
beneath El Greco’s vision
of the opening of the Fifth Seal.
St. John reaches to heaven,
his body a candle flame
trembling in the wind.

The skin of the risen
is bruised with shadow
and flashes of white,
as if lightning had just struck close by
and by some miracle
not harmed a soul.


There are two distances
between us—
a closeness whence you fly from me
and a vastness
wherein you remain.
In the interstice between

dances an angel.

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