This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Gabriel Kruis. 


Resurrection Rock

it’s true we called them pigs

said we hated them
feared them

said fuck them
when they weren’t around

I guess that was the animus

why without thinking
we ducked the CAUTION-ribbon
dangling over the arroyo
where it interrupts
the path

the air
the space around it

the slow censer
of the sun
a scent of sage wafting over us

that quietly fluttering tape
holding its emptiness
in place

but without it if I’m honest
we never would have noticed
those bones there
further up the bight

the raw burl of the arm’s
unsocketed ball
for instance
jutting from the cut

and further downstream
the half-dozen vertebrae
like scrying dice
scattered loose of the spine
in the dried-up

as if the Earth
had coughed them up

and now
with the light on them
the landscape rearranged itself
around them

all those easters 
we’d hiked out pre-dawn
for sunrise services
when we were kids
and we’d never seen them

all those times as teens
as was the case that evening
we’d gone there to smoke
and watch the sun set
over the hogbacks
to lay back and wait
for the stars
to start falling

to think all that time
they must’ve been there
who knows how long 
waiting 100 yards or so 
the wrong side
of the graveyard fence

for the flash flood to exhume them
or the winds to sift them free

so I guess I was surprised
to find myself there
kneeling over the skull
its orbitals like an hourglass
the lower half
half-filled with sand
and as we ducked back under the tape
and continued on our way
I kept going back over this memory
of my grandfather telling me 
of the sockeyes’ return

how they could read the odor
of the river like a map
the taste of the till
washing into it
like a tether
leading them

and how
leaning over the bridge
in early fall
where the current turns turbid
as it enters the ocean
he’d said they’d given up eating already
replacing that ordinary hunger
with another
so that even then as their jade heads
and deep red forms
coursed against the current
the current
was pulling them apart

their scales
from their skin

their muscles
every last calorie until
as if unlocked
by that elusive
of home
they’d relinquish
their lodes to the river
and with them
their bodies
as well

just once

and back again
then gone

but then it’s true
it wasn’t them
the ones who made it
I found myself lingering over
it was those fish
who like this stranger
fell short
of their final destinations

the bald fact
of their nakedness
like a question
in the air

the opposite almost
to a birth date
with a hyphen
off it      

            (1984 –

so much depends upon
what’s absent there

so we had to wonder
having arrived at the rock
had they been a sinner
forsaken interloper
or did they come to rest there
a century or more ago
long before God
ever claimed that plot
as another of His acres

all the while knowing 
these were questions
without answers

but these were questions
without answers
and as the evening wore on
and we smoked
and watched the meteors fall
and dissolve
in the dark
I wandered down from the rock
picking my way
by the aqueous light the solar powered l e d’s
cast upon the sunbleached floribunda
of cloth flowers
on the graves
where having relieved myself
I stood for a while in the dark

the light and a slight pentacostal noise
carrying across the field
from the revival tent
on the edge of 66
the occasional car
moving along it
I found myself returning
to the sockeye and the mystery
of that inner governor
secreted away
inside her

fish magic

like that paul klee painting
with a clock at its occluded heart

its cartoon arithmetic
its sulfurous fish

innocent of history

but I’ve always wanted to know
what it was about that first fish
who even as the cave commits
its brute depth
swims on

scototropic or
is what they call it

those who abandon light
for blindness

her cold roe
like pale ellipses
in the mineral dark
as her spawn
over the years turns
almost to silk
in jaw
and gill
more current
than fish
they appear
to be
little more
than a pause
on the way
to nothing
a draft
in the genepool


a primal silver

how many generations had to pass
before their eyes sealed over
until they were only living
in a sense
by vibration
and alchemical

and as I made my way back
to the rock
maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me
but I’d been too poor
to go home for the funeral
so I knew but didn’t know
that of course 
he was buried here
when I found his name
on a stone

            RICHARD KRUIS
                  1917 – 2008

the way it stood there
in its plainness
too ordinary
filled me with its vacancy
and when I returned
to my friends
I kept it to myself
but as my spine conformed
to the curve of the rock
I felt a hollow kind of closure
at the thought
of those other bones there
as if washed clean
like an empty vessel
with its stopper in it
my liquid marrow
bottled and warm
at how quiet he was
and how
with a kind of singing 
in the fissures
that hold me together 
for the moment 
I wasn’t



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).