This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features four poems by Noah Burton. 


Personal Statement

I’m going to bust the door down
and steal the motherboard.
Going to toss the virus into a stranger’s
peacoat pockets on the blue line
into Crystal City. Then I want to make
something explode with delight
in the possibility of discovering a jungle,
or a building that’s not yet been explored
because the architect was blind, wealthy,
and knew no one. What a practice you have,
I tell my disciples, spinning a canister of salt
on the checkered placemat. This is the hardest
of labors: leaves. This is the wisest of favors:
a pitchfork. I am convinced that this is the brightest
plan: an empty steppe with a herd of horses
dusting up in the rain like a leaking
drop ceiling over a homely spice rack.



The spoon is bent then
the spoon is straight.
How bleak the dish
frowning into the sink.
I soaped my pan
and now I’m clean.
I soaped my mug
and now I’m clean.
Why then now do I
sud around the block
with a coffee can of worms
in my rucksack,
the moon crawling
over my dimpled head?


The Cartographer Knows the Cryptographer Hid the Island

Our ship rolls into a reef.
The castle just past the storm’s
edge crumbles on top of a harp
and all the knights gather,
at once, out of barracks,
tapping their helmets. Why do I
rub the carbon flecks in the kiln
between my fingers? Why is joy
a clay lock box in a melting snow field?
Work work work is a patience, but I trip,
I scatter, like a magician yanking a table cloth,
the dining set dishes crashing into the wall.
You need a little warmth. I need to know
my moat is real. We want a lot of air:
fill a quilted balloon, a woven basket to float
over a regiment. Also, carry a bright
copper ladle to serve up all the stew.


Station Notes: Toll Booth

The locals left the bypass indifferent.
The short strip into the coast is dense with umbrellas.
The shed builders drive by in a flat bed
with hot dinner sandwiches in their laps.
The sun is full, but then when isn’t it?

Two of the regulars to me:
“Going to be a hot one.”
“Lots of seasonals.” Cut pines blow
by on rigs, metal chains garble.

The Kentucky license plate looks the best.
It doesn’t, however, have any distinguishing features.
I just happen to look at it then
while some kids wish me Happy Holidays

in August. I hand them all quarters,
mildly, and make up a John Wilkes Boothe joke
in the toll pod as the sun goes whirling
over the exit to Freeport, Maine.



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