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Poems By James Owens
Purple Sweetness at the Edge of Vision


There are more sparrows than you will ever name,
flitting brown and cliché from the edge of vision,
until they are invisible in their subtle variants,
until their songs are a gray lilt in the background
you would notice only if they stopped.
And don’t mention beetles, an inordinate fondness
for that vast demesne of formal invention
played out to the verge of absurdity.

The beginning of mortality is the sudden realization
that culture is more interesting than nature.
Resurrection starts with the slow knowledge
that nature and culture become one—
late September, and carpenter bees grazing thistle bloom
tip themselves face down in the purple sweetness,
kicking for balance, like ducks
nuzzling weeds in a creek’s bottom ooze.
The simile is not in the thistle, nor in the bees,
who know nothing of bloody-minded MacDiarmid,
or Tanizaki’s Some Prefer Thistles.

No, that’s wrong—as we walk on, leaving the bees
to their luscious debauch—Tanizaki wrote about nettles,
and the sweet bees would never confuse the two,
but we push through the mist of sparrow songs,
the wrong names at our lips, insisting
all prickly weeds must be something the same.

(Previously appeared in Sow's Ear Poetry Review.)


Poem on His Birthday

At midnight wind scoured the sky,
chasing fine dust and the stiff leaves
of a dry November, the year’s corner
where air caught and was torn.

All night he wanted to think about wind—
not the unexpected life that had taken him
as if lurking in a blind sector of sky,
driving the past into its wake.
And then the assumption of gray evenings
and the loved body warm beside him,
though he would rise, restless,
and step through the rooms that stored his life.

He desired wind itself above the house,
not wind as metaphor, as if a river
of days slid across the empty sky.
Perhaps there would be a storm.
When the clock twitched and clicked,
he augured rain grinding on the roof
and stripped branches lashed and wild
for miles all through the dark country.

And that’s not all—
he wanted morning, wet and shining,
twigs from the ruined choirs,
little particulars, that kind of paradise.

(Previously appeared in Poem)


Two collections of James Owens's poems were published in 2007: An Hour is the Doorway, from Black Lawrence Press, and Frost Lights a Thin Flame, from Mayapple Press. He lives in La Porte, Ind., and teaches at Valparaiso University. He maintains a blog at http://klagewelt.blogspot.com

Copyright 2008  Chantarelle's Notebook