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After Trinity

—New Mexico

Such an auspicious place to start, beginning
In the middle, but it’s here—acres of one-story homes
Fading into desert, the sun, swaddled in gauzy clouds,
A brilliant mushroom in the western sky—
That we feel most vulnerable: the world’s longest tram, stopped
Half-way up a 10,000 foot slope, swaying on a cable
Smaller than a man’s wrist. "In case you’re wondering—"
The operator grins—"it’s seven seconds." And we look
Down at the jagged rocks of the arroyo,
The green-brown patches of scrub juniper
And dogwood, counting. One thousand one,
One thousand two. And halfway through imaginary
Freefall we are lifted again—up, slowly up—
To where the summit awaits. The small box-shaped shadow
That had for so long crawled up the far rock wall
Becomes us again. When we emerge from the cloistered smell
Of closeness, the air is cooler than we were prepared for.

            For the Melancholy

Were I broken, prone to
a vocabulary of falling snow,
limited, perhaps,

in mobility or vision,
I’d still want this beautiful
world.  Were dreams
liminal or prayers hymns
to light for intercessory

grace, I’d still
want this crippling pain.
Because love bleeds.  Because
a = a means something
to linguists more concerned

with the copula’s death...
The world impresses those
speechless few—waiting,
always, by the window.

            based on Ray Man’s painting, “Lautgedicht

The Shark

"This is what poems are:
with mercy
for the greedy,
they are the tongue’s wrangle,
the world’s pottage, the rat’s star." --Anne Sexton

A man, killing time on a wooden bench,
watched a reef shark swim a circuit in the tank
like a cloud patrolling the aqueous atmosphere.
Its jaw hung agape. Naturally so,
he thought, as though it were bored
with the machinery of death. Rows
of inversely curved teeth: exposed
like the audience of a Greek amphitheater
watching Antigone weep over her dead brother.

The snow, yesterday, had fallen in sloppy flakes.
The temperature plummeted, rush hour,
freezing a patina of ice before
the plows could make their rounds.
He was listening to the radio —
a wedding party attacked by a suicide bomber —
when the impact drove his knee into the wheel.
Coffee splashed the dash; he was plowed
into the car ahead. When it was over, five cars

had come to rest at the unlikely angles
of a derailed train. Looking back, he sees
the scene from above, a film, superimposed:
tanker cars, the news again, toxic fumes drifting
like an invisible ghost toward a small town.
Men in hazmat suits, fire trucks. A haze
of confusion. Bold print scrolling
Breaking News. At night, the torn muscles in his back
twisted like gristle on backbone while he rode

a roller coaster through a dream. It ratcheted
up an incline near a final series of turns,
hitched and slipped off the chain.
In the hollow silence that followed, he felt
confined, as though in a metal womb,
presented to the sky; or born, again –
the rails, dipping and swerving from events of his life,
seemed a perplexing equation, an equals sign,
a copula for subject and predicate; the landscape

of metal swirled in vertiginous waves. He knew
he was being watched. The great eye rolled forward
and back, forward and back, endlessly scanning.
If the shark were a cloud – on some level everything
is always that thing and a representation – it was gray,
an augury of indeterminacy. A survivor,
it had outlasted every purge the earth could offer.
The gills trembled. The eye rolled.
The caudal fin whipped left and right.


From the top of the stairs the crowd’s roar
is the place a river meets itself

below landfall’s lip.  He lays his hands
on the backstage door
like a revival preacher summoning the Spirit’s power. 
A moment only, the way a moment

is a prayer—then he gathers himself
and walks into the new world,
live. The stage,

flooded with lights and smoke, is the prophet’s pulpit—
no longer the black scuffed

and stained riser criss-crossed
with cords and duct tape. 
It’s the place the two worlds meet.  And, yes,

sweet god yes when the band kicks in
he rises up on an enormous wave

and rides.  Yes, here, there
is no beginning and no end, no room

for mistakes.  The inside of lightning, white
and sudden on the window: the thrall

of so many eyes watching.

He is a moon jelly under black light.
The shark’s jaw.  The ax split between the worlds of

Plato and Aristotle.  The sanctified lamb.
The emanation from Sefiroth.

He becomes what they need most: an idea
of themselves, larger than themselves.

It keeps the rain falling,
the crops growing, the cars made; most of all
it keeps the days coming, one after the other.

Copyright © 2009 Steve Mueske

Steve Muekse

Steve Mueske is the author of A Mnemonic for Desire and Whatever the Story Requires. His poems have been published in Crazyhorse, The Massachusetts Review, Fulcrum, Third Coast, Nimrod, Court Green, Hotel Amerika, 88, 32 Poems, Best New Poets 2005, and elsewhere. He is the owner and operator of three candles press, and curates poems for Poetry 365. An electronic musician and poet, he can be found on the web at

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