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Sample Poems by Lisken Van Pelt Dus

The Secret Life of Rocks

By the time you explain the mechanics of frost heaves
it's too late -

the secret's out. Rocks are alive -
unerring instinct for up

the lynch-pin of the argument.
We know about craving sky.

Think of exploding through the surface
from underwater -

partly you gasp for air but partly
it is the universe opening from inside

and the knowledge that we touch the earth
at only the tiniest tangent -

and still hang on. It's hard work,
but the rock nosing up by the daisies

has witnesses - us,
and the great slow blink

of night, day - our planet spinning ceaselessly
into the sun.


To the north, the mumble of a train
grinding the long tracks beside the beaver pond.
Just south, a truck drowns it with its doppler,

but still I hear the fledgling robins squawk
indignant hunger. Wind shakes the treetops
free of rain that falls onto my page. It all falls

apart, gradually, the whole universe, or so
the scientists tell us, and I believe them,
the way I settle into home gratefully

and then spend my dreams on breaking
out, desire for what is not mine
feeding the filament of want I spin

into the air. Its shimmer tells me I'm alive.
Even if our lives are good, and sweet -
like mine, I readily admit - it's not

enough for something in us, the part
that doesn't care if it gets snared in webs
of its own making as long as it keeps

moving, like this spider, trapped
in a stickiness that only yesterday
was his survival, two legs snapped off,

free finally of function but unable
still to leave the tangle of their home.
I want it all. It hurts to lose

our energy and, worse, just in proportion
to our attraction to disorder. So time
runs down, and now the wind has stretched

all but two strands of the old web
to breaking point, and the dead spider
swings from the railing, making no sound at all.

White-Limned Morning

All morning snow, falling lightly against grey
and muffled traffic. Then just before noon

the cap on the world lifts: sky suddenly blue
and ready to go anywhere, ready to be everywhere.

In the night I woke from a dream where I was
many people, and for a little while I made some

sense of it. Then I snugged the duvet closer.
Let them go, I told myself. Now here is the sky

turning itself inside out right in front of me.
Nothing so important it can't be released -

sky bursts into blue improbability, sun
shines bright on a white-coated world.

What can I do but yearn and get on with
what has to be done. The sky can wander.

Lacking Wings

Lacking wings, we hang a lot on words,
to signal danger, love, the color
of the flight we'd like to take.
Some of mine show up in Spanish -
golondrinas, revoloteo. Sometimes I gather
swallows, hover, but these are not
the same, these flutter over
someone else's land.
We hear
the voices of the ones who nourish us
and the ones who threaten -
our song sparrows, our blue jays -
and learn our first words as we spin
between them.

When the jays finally
moved on this morning to the next
neighborhood, the other birds sang
in relief. I can't transcribe
their song, but I can
tell you this:
if I turned bird,
my wings would curve like gondolas.
I would fly into evening, vagrant
and longing, would call endlessly.

The Life Contracted

Let's speak of Javier, the guitarist, playing over breakfast at the cafe
just for the soul of it.

That's his sky he's under: its sun cresting the church's dome,
its dust too cold as yet to smell of much.

Soon it will smell of fire and footpaths, and his songs
will hang like echoes through the day, like the worlds I want

to keep inside me - but I'm learning that isn't possible, not really.
The only sky I can tune into is the one I'm in

and that changes. As it has to, like a bonsai tree, its
sprawl and need of pruning.

Hands grip the branches, squeeze, wrap, and cut.
In the morning a new sky will be waiting for me.

And then another. And then another.
Each a different chord. Think of the bonsai tree, forced new.

He Calls It Love

He would defend it, he says:
the right of the river to be more than one.
The slow one, murmur hushed
as the flutter of wings on stones.
The evening one, light-gatherer
like the first taste of waking from dark sleep,
body beside you radiant and surprising.
The icy one: unexpected channels
of winter moving, and the sound
of hard sex behind closed windows.
The fast one who knows only
how to leave when the rain pours in.
He would defend them all, he says,
the many ways we love.