David Keplinger is the author of five collections of poetry, recently Another City (Milkweed Editions, 2018) and The Most Natural Thing (New issues Press, 2013). He is the recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Colorado Book Award, the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Cavafy Prize, and other honors. He teaches in the MFA Program at American University in Washington, D.C.
The injured pigeon hops on one leg as if nothing has happened. It begins to crane toward the black magnet of the sky. The sky might ask for it to come. The pigeon might be asking it to take in one more shape. In the air it bears no injury, no trace of it: the equal, opposite reaction (the beating wings dissolve) to the heaviness of things.
I can be your face: I feel the cheeks flush with the heat of tea you can’t stop drinking. Halfway up the hill in Nara, attended by deer, we stop for tea you can’t stop drinking. I can be the middle of our walk. Our walk is finished. But I can be your hands, as they are holding up the bowl. I can be your face, looking into it.
Veronika, knee deep in snow, is cooking pig fat. Richard is stoking the paper fire. Lucie washing potatoes in a bucket. Veronika with eyes closed as if crying. Richard in a trance, eyes open. Lucie, laughing, her hands under water. Twenty years ago. Then it all goes thinning outward, slowly expanding, the pig fat smoke, the azure sky, the mountain, the knee-deep snow, the new year we are celebrating.
The Crow’s Progress
The crow took up its work inside the belly
of a struck-dead deer, dragged to the side of the road.
It stopped: then again a subtle movement
from within the body, which I knew to be the crow.
I imagined it, huge heart of a dinosaur,
angle of its shoulders, the sloppy wings,
slathered in the fluids of the deer’s collapse.
It made the chest pound again. It made
the belly ripple. It was trying to be born.
By a mounte on the morne meryly he rydes
it was said of Gawain, on a deadly road,
no luggage but the fuel of his own trouble,
the privilege of which, we’re led to believe,
afforded him a kind of happiness.
The crow, too, was making soft and steady progress.
It scraped and scraped outward with its shovel-like beak.
In one version of “The Olive Trees”
it is Saint-Remy, many years
before the First World War
and the armies of Europe
have not been born. Nor is the idea
of the war: it has not reached
the land which has turned red
not by the breach of shovels,
the slit of trenches, falling shells.
Let’s say the land knows nothing
of the place you bring to mind.
Let’s say this is not a field near Saint-Remy.
These pools of scarab-red are not light.
Inside the creeping opening
between each branch, only yellow
globs of what is not the fog
and what is not the morning.
It is not the nineteenth century,
not even that, says the hand that commands
these forms. This is ochre used for cave bear.
This scarab is for fire, and you are merely thinking
of yourself again, who lives not in Saint-Remy,
but in another city.