Poetry

Cruel Summer

PETER CULLEY

After Wallace Stevens. From Parkway. Published by New Star Books in 2013.

1

He was in Nanaimo writing letters to

Marshall, every now &

then walking down to the playhouse

for a smoke. The heavy leafage

of a wet June absorbed the roar

of the highway so he sat on the damp

carpet he’d slung over the old garden

chair & picked up and put down

the book that had begun to curl

on the dusty table raising more dust.

He trades places with the cat

so that when the gravel trucks gear

down or loudly up the cat can watch it pass

& he can pretend to read.

It was almost time for Rockford

when the news intervened. Outside the last

bees on Planet Earth rubbed sagey

pollen on their undercarriages.

Noting this he raised his eyes from the

newscrawl to a copper Ford drifting

thru the twilit Bel-Air of the Ford

administration. This is the part of the sublime

from which we shrink: Sepulveda, Ventura

& Culver City are to him

an approximate haze as hard as calcium,

unspooling painkillers at every point

of the compass. Something shifts &

then he shifts. He apologises

to the dead space where he had been sleeping.

2

He wakes in the pollarded half-shade of a dying

walnut. The half-audible early birds tweet

ear bones press against each other

a passing satellite pings its archive.

Night had been a tree to him moving through space,

sparing him memorable dreams, something

medication never quite achieved

but if you sit there thinking it goes dim

the golfball grain comes rushing in

like water through a window. All he knows

of the moon—its interlocking t-shapes

of broom yellow fanning

oilslick tailfeather—is that it’s

both outside & above, a bell held in a cup.

The pain is such a little thing to be wandering

abroad like that. He becomes aware of the

heavy air & that he’s awake,

a hiss of decompression through the leaves

hanging heavy in a hoary-hanging sky

sickly after the rain hit, turning west

he hallucinates as it falls each ring of the tree.

3

He hangs hangers in a

cupboard left to right

the wind chime’s

soft memory gonging

across his neck,

Chico Hamilton style—

a handswidth or two

more or less, unstrapping

the braces, snapping brasses a

hinged ruler with oil, rarely looking up,

even at those shivers of bleached

green leaf piercings

where other people move

through the light more or less as he does

but rarely with that quadrant over-the-shoulder-

you-see-what-he-sees angle—no

narrating parrot or hummingbird

or offshore bee would follow so close

knowing neither right nor left

nor above nor below

bouncing around

at the end of a pineal stalk

like the third eye of realism

squinting through the low cloud.

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