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Sample Poems by Al Maginnes

The Consolation of Endless Universes

In one theory, there are universes
lined on either side of this one,
each such a slight variation
of its neighbor you have to squint
to see the difference, like a street
where my brother lived, its line
of white houses so alike I found
his house only by seeing his car.

But if you wander too many
universes beyond what you know,
you arrive somewhere you don’t recognize
such as the universe where
your mother and father do not meet,

worlds of black skies and gods
more terribly present or absent than any
who claim dominion here.

Another theory says each decision
gives birth to a reality in which
a different decision was made,
a rainbow of universes erupting
from each gesture. Some of these
are too easy to imagine
like the one in which my best friend
from junior high is reading

about my arrests and the time
I will have to serve. I woke
a few mornings ago, his name
a smoke-wisp hanging in
the empty corridor of some dream.
A few minutes of clicking
through the internet showed me
the picture taken the last time

he went to prison. A list
of arrests and sentences told me
enough to fill in the years since
he and I shoplifted cigarettes.
The consolation of endless universes
is that somewhere he is living
a life that makes him as happy
as my life makes me, even while

I wonder again how I escaped,
how I am the one allowed to walk free
inside this, the one universe
where I can change anything.

Inventing Constellations

I know the moon offers no light of its own, that its glow,
like ours, is what the sun leaves behind. And I know
what wishes have been wasted on the moon. Tonight,
I wish the ones I love were with me in this small field
near our house to see earth’s shadow cross the face
of the fire-reflecting moon. But lately I’ve let
too many small angers burn, said too many things that can’t be
excused or taken back. I’ve wanted too much time in fields alone.
Still, the house is not dark behind me. A light glows,
low and constant in our daughter’s room as she sleeps.
Last night we fell asleep with the lamp burning above us
like an unfinished conversation. Tonight,
Isabel turned off the light in her room to play with a toy
that casts patterns of stars and crescent moons across
the night-blank walls. After she dropped into sleep,
I lay on her floor a while inventing constellations, giving names
to those soon-to-vanish formations: The Bad Father,
The Child Rising, The House of the Family Dreaming.
Leaving her room, I switched on the lamp by her door.
We like the idea of a light above us, proving an end
to the dark. But a flashlight cutting a pattern of tiny commas
in a neighbor’s yard pulls my gaze from the shift of light
and shadow in the sky. If it could talk, the moon might tell me
the flashlight has more to say about the transitory nature
of light than any eclipse. Everything passes. In the morning
I’ll tell my loved ones about the color of the moon
and all they missed, but morning has its own business,
and they know the moon will be there tonight to preside over
this constellation, this body of light, we made and remain.

Blue Collar

This blue shirt, slack on its hanger, waiting
to take the shape of my body, is not the blue collar
my father warned was waiting for me
if I continued to be confounded
by decimals and fractions.
Neither is it the ice-blue Oxford my father wore
on Fridays, his white shirts at the cleaners.
I knew the collars and the jobs he spoke of
on those nights when his voice loosened with a few drinks,
and he worked to explain to me
his theories of class and economics,
that slid by me like the rules of math
or grammar, my ears full of radio songs
and the stanzas of revolution I read
in underground papers my friends got
from older brothers.
They were the grease-mapped shirts
worn by the men who worked in the oil-dark cave
of the filling station owned by Billy Neal,
who called my dad “brother” and asked him what
the good word was. My father always had one.
They were the dark khaki shirts sweated through
by Mr. Anthony, the school janitor,
who never spoke, whose knack for fixing
what was broken trumped the bathrooms
he did not clean for weeks on end.
They were the frayed shirts with company logos
and names stitched over the pockets,
by my friends’ fathers as they came home
from the bottling plant or the mill with no good words to say,
who opened sweating cans of beer and slowly
unlaced their shoes, mumbling half-sentences to their sons
and nothing at all to me.

Parenthood as Correspondence Course

I’m dividing time between the video
on Appropriate TV and scratching

equations meant to reveal exactly
how much time with the spouse subtracts

from our estimated budgets for sleep
and work. When that sum is discovered,

I’ll restart the video and begin my essay
on the use of inside and outside voice.

The wings of moths leave crescents, tiny commas
and parentheses on the window. The pen slips

on the page, rights itself, continues
its midnight-black calculations.

You are only as good as your last grade,
and grades can be assigned

by any member of the faculty, which is
composed, it seems, of anyone

who is not me. I almost said “save me,”
but according to my transcript,

a pockmarked roster of failures and incompletes,
I might be beyond saving.

To be sure, I’ve had my moments: acing
the quiz on eating broccoli

in public. The talk about death.
But new assignments abandon

the syllabus. Fresh deadlines sprout like mold.
No matter how I shave the figures,

I come up short on patience and time.
Nothing to do but sigh and start again.

Crack a fresh notebook, uncap a pen.