Poetry, Please

Pottering about online, I came across a new poet I’d never heard of but whose work I instantly admired. His name is Kevin Prufer and he has several collections of poetry published, his latest in 2008 entitled National Anthem. Here’s a couple of his poems:


We are not equal to our criminals.  A raftful floats by every day,
dainty blue canopies flaring in the breeze.  Cigarettes dangling

from downturned mouths, eyes screwed to the shore—
the criminals are slim and beautiful, draped

in their lawnchairs so their fingers leave trails in the river water.
They are sentimental and lean, shirtless and droop-eyed.

Oh to dig my tired toes into the soft mud of the bank,
the pickpocket says.  To drop coins in the river and retrieve them,

to retrieve all the coins that have ever been dropped in the river.
The others are silent, smoke leaking from their mouths.  Wishes

are everything to criminals, and the burl of black clouds over the trees
is unimportant.    My father was buried with a mouthful

of stolen gems, the con-man replies, swiping his guitar.  I dug
one hundred holes in the yard before I found them.   The black clouds

curl into mouths that rustle the trees.  Around their feet,
fifteen bags of coins.  The hacker picks his golden teeth, the falsely accused

stares hungrily to our shore.  Our women are in love with criminals.
They have the soft glow of lamplight on pavement on clear nights after rain.

How we envy criminal ambition.  We are strung like pearls
on the weedy shore, white-faced and furious as they pass.

Our dinner burns, our children cry, and the wind cools
as the storm sweep over.  Justice, justice, we call to them.

But the long-fingered criminals in their gorgeous swimsuits,
the lawless with their guns draped over their chairs, the shifty-eyed

and doomed with bare chests, the exciting—they’ll never notice us.


The sky fell into the telescope—a tumble, then a dying
gasp. I sighed and scraped my toe on the observatory floor,

twisted the straps that held my glasses on, smiled.
The sky was a zero, an empty shell. When the data

stopped, the computer was a wreckage
of frozen points of light, confounded. The printer died

so I heard my breaths now loud as the whirr
of wheels that turned when I set the telescope

on a new and empty quadrant. Freedom, I thought,
my fingers at the soft focus. Simple and quiet.

All my life the stars were angry little sighs,
needle-pricks of breath. The sky coughed their light over me

so I’d grown accustomed and set my nights by them.
What more was there to say? I screwed the lens caps back

to bottle the starlight in. I shut the lamps
and closed the door behind me. The night was a wonder

of shadowless trees, a giant thrall—a wheeze from the dome
where the sky now was, then nothing at all.

7 thoughts on “Poetry, Please

  1. “The sky fell into the telescope”–and I fell right into that poem. Wonderful. Liked the first also, if somewhat less. Perhaps because none of us likes to admit that we “envy criminal ambition”? But oh, the details! They are stunning (so perhaps not less, but differently). Thank you for this. I will look for his work.

  2. ds – I’m so delighted that you appreciate him! I don’t like all poetry, am in fact quite fussy about it, and so I am extra pleased when I find a new poet I really like. I laughed at your comment about criminal ambition. It reminds me of Camus’s equally shock-provoking remark that we all wish for the death of the people we love. I’m happy to take those lines as thought-stirrers rather than prescriptions. 😉

    Archie – I forget that you are a man with an eye for a line of poetry. Always pleased when I please you!

    Stefanie – you’re most welcome! 🙂

    Lilian – and you are most welcome, too. I’m very glad to think I’ve given you a break (and hopefully an inspirational one) from the writing!

  3. Fascinating perceptions of how we interpret our lives and universe. That desire for the more exciting, the glamour of the criminal world which is largely our invention. I notice this is a man’s world, even if I can’t imagine myself in a gorgeous swimsuit. If our women love them perhaps that’s where I’ve been going wrong all these years! Like the line about the furious faces like pearls – our becoming ironically the sort of swag we are said to crave. The universe shut up in a bottle – the sort of time off from it all I like the idea of too – so long as I can pour it back out once I’ve had a break. Interesting stuff. Where do you find the time to search these things out on top of everything else and how’s the house rebuilding getting on?

  4. Bookboxed – I love what you have to say about these poems, but the gorgeous swimsuit is surely just a matter of stretching the imagination that teeny bit further. 😉 Actually I came across him very easily, when an online edition of the Virginia Quarterly Review had a list of top ten books of poetry published in 2008 (I think). So sometimes the good stuff just drops into your hands. As for the kitchen. Well! We are getting there, but have been momentarily stumped by finding that no colour in the world seems to go with the tiles we have chosen (ostensibly they are greeny-blue) and having a difference of opinion over what constitutes a nice design on the flooring. But I can at least cook and have regained control over most of the house. If we can get our act together, the end is in sight!

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