Today in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Paul Hlava. 

Elegy with Crop-Duster

Even as we called him     he disappeared

walked across the floating pollen golden in the dusk
needles dropping from shaken pines

hay bales I climbed on
to peer down and see

a great big nothingness happening    
from field to canal
from canal to the fields beyond

power lines criss-crossing the formlessness of grief

The thought of sky colored the sky

and all the little crawlers hidden in swatches
of ‘round here     to Mexico

and Jacqueline cleaning dishes

Bubbles formed and burst     and formed and burst
in her clockwise repetition of sponge

while a doll melted in the bonfire of palm fronds in the yard

When one guest sat     another one stood
When one guest stood     another one sat

Our directives were clear     the burnt parts

of flesh were to be scraped from the grill
lilies and carnations gathered and trimmed

and put in vases     the pool cleaned
journalist reflected upside down on the surface of water

We were upside down on the surface of her lens
and everything fell from our pockets     dollars and coins
long ribbons of receipts     our photo ids

Koi flamed upward from the pond

Empty coveralls leaned an elbow on the counter inside
where Jacqueline rinsed a dish a second time
and they were sewn with a name     that was also her own

How can something not be what it is

silver stitch of aluminum through mountains to the east
stone now liquid     now hex-bolt

in the wing of a crop-duster     now stitch in the center

of a badly scarred pine     All the albums were empty
in a cardboard box     in the corner of the garage

and the shape of things were unclear again
oil-stains     the ever-shifting sky

Next question was     where to put food    

pork roast wrapped up
in the fridge     rice in Tupperware
Ernesto’s potato salad still on the arm of the couch

She had never needed so many containers before
and cupboard space was increasingly small

and when would she possibly need them again     The smoke that rose

from fields in the distance     where farmers burned
straw to seed     was drifting particles of carbon and ash

a single muscle that pressed the horizon
and diminished in time

while owls burrowed further into dirt
and ibis and egrets     stalked their shadows

in mud of an irrigated farm
The boots of the one-eared coyote pup
ran from our footsteps in the night

Howl howl howl howl     In the desert was nothing
not even the desert     cold the air in sudden branches

faces that advanced in muffled dark

One after another faces     taped to walls
of alleyways of dunes     names

and birthdays of the unblinking mass     appeared
and vanished in our walking

There was hollowness between our feet and sand

Their voices were whispers     Skyscrapers
were swatches of grass that moths ate to the roots

The bells struck midnight     Hour hand loosened and fell
in the lung of the dethroned queen

and the storybook was closed     Progress could begin

when cameras were put away
and we retreated to our rooms     removed our masks
Tragedy was the tragedy inside

Caterpillars released their threads
a hammer buried beneath a root

Jacqueline with a knife in her right hand

before anything else she had to     cut avocados
dice an onion     dice tomatoes     save the seeds for compost
Thus she continued     Rhythm

of blade was need     the guests had
to be fed     One left through the gate     Two entered

the sliding-glass door     Dinner
was the approach of dinner     three yipping birds
light coat of sand swept from stones     into pond

mixed with a fork     with lemon and salt
trees that grew and grew

The dogs were immediate in their hunger

and time became a single sharp point
in the heart of a yam     where there was no separation

between koi and moss
lawn chairs and their layer of dust
coveralls sewn in the clouds

or where I stood     with my hand behind the ear of a hound
and Jacqueline who manipulated with a fork and spoon

what was going to be served


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