Poems by Ryan Van Winkle (USA/ Scotland)
Published in Issue 31 (August 2013).
on a white hill reaching
into the fridge for a pint
of milk while rivers flooded
from what we spilled. My grandmother
said one thing when we married
that we should never go to bed
angry, holding something dark
and tight like a tennis ball
to our chests. She slept
in a separate room, locked
her door tight, washed
his laundry till it was clean and kept
quiet as our house, quiet
as a jar of olives, my microwave still
blinks, a lake of milk by my feet. I trail
back to bed, stale them in sheets.
"It was a dark and stormy night"
It was a dark and stormy night.
The cage was covered
so the bird went to sleep. Switching
the light on I wandered
through the flat house covered
in the dust of a day. Piles
of books lay uncounted and closed
on the carpet among the veins
of maps, the hills I could have climbed
while the sun was open. I counted the letters
I should have written on the hill,
the butterfly I might have chased,
locked in a jar, carried home. For
when the night turned stormy
I could have said, "I have done
something. I have run
for beauty. I have begun."
It was that kind of dark and stormy night,
like a black sheet drawn over my house.
I could not sleep.
The bird could not sleep.
This is what it feels like to get older,
to lose the mask of yourself. They say
not to look in a mirror at midnight.
They say, you find a ghost there,
a future spouse, your killer
looking over your own shoulder. I look
at my own eyes. Grey as flags
left on a pole too long. I am sure
I graduated from university. I am sure
I had a favorite cartoon and I know
I watched that video till it bled. I know
I would go home after school. I know
there was Mother’s ritual folding
of bread. I know I left home.
I know I drank wine
without permission. I know
I drank wine with permission
and dropped the glass. I know
I have dropped more
than I'll ever remember. I know
I cannot make a list
of the things I've dropped.
I know it would remind me
to hold. I know I dropped a light bulb
and I know I was happy
when a shard of glass sneaked
so deep into my foot
I could not squeeze it out,
could do nothing
but accept it as mine.
It was a dark and stormy night.
I had to meet someone, a shadow
with my face I had to confront.
There was a storm of broken light bulbs, a storm
of lightning bugs in a jar. There was a million things
I meant to say to myself while the sun was up,
while the mirror was clear. There was a pile of books
to read or burn or bury and a shard of light in my foot
I needed to remove.
It was a dark
and stormy night.
I am more water
than I am light.
I feel more for water,
think more about it.
A tea cup
Some say water
has been frozen
and is at rest
in state-sized lakes
on the dark, quiet side
of the moon.
It was a dark and stormy night and I
was as visible as anyone, maybe
revealed a little by the rain. But she
began to call me Moon as if
I was far away. Hey Moon, are you
hungry? C'mere Moon, give us a kiss.
Later, I became Mr. Moon. Mr. Moon,
this is serious. We must call a meeting.
This was a dark.
This was a good dark.
This was a dark dark.
This was a bark of dark.
This was end of the reel dark.
This was a varnished dark, a hull of dark
on Death's Ship of Dark steering north into a storm
cloud gray as old boot lace,
color of wolf fur and no red
riding anywhere near so his claws
rapped on my window like rain
and begged so I wrapped
a blanket round my treasures,
tied them to a stick and went
to where I knew a boat was waiting, its dark sails
beating a horny breath in the wind of that cold
dark and stormy night.
It was a dark and stormy night -- I dreamt
I was walking with strangers -- candles in jars.
When Lennon bit the sky someone said
there are many ways a star can fall. I saw
a woman pushing her eyes into her skull
and did nothing. I saw flies in a mason jar,
languid and plump as raisins stuck in sugar
and I did nothing. I saw light bulbs explode
and stars giving up to gravity and even when
I saw my mother’s hand shock
a jar of peanut butter to the floor
I did not fetch a cloth, sweep up shards.
I did not dry her palm of blood or hide
the chipped tile from father. I did not look up
long enough to make a wish. I made no wishes.
I saw a boy send his finger into the sky
on the back of a roman candle.
I walked right up to Mr. Death and asked 'How
do you like your lazy boy now?' I do not mind letting go.
I like the feeling of slipping, like an exclamation point
when I mean a full stop.
It was a dark and stormy night. The wine was black.
From the porch I could see waves sharp
as shark fins and everybody was there,
we were always saying goodbye to someone
already gone. And I dropped the bottle
causing a sharp lake on the floor. Much later,
the phone was ringing, they said
it was 1913 calling.
It was dark. It was stormy.
It was the beginning.
It was also the middle
and the end. It was four
panels and eight hundred
pages. It was black
and white and full color
on Sunday. It was copied
with Silly Putty, it was burned
for warmth or lined the bird cage.
It softened the package, smelled
like sparklers on the fourth of July
our names singed into sky, our fingertips blooming
stars till our names were eaten, our sticks sulking
to ash in our hands. Our time of sparks would hasten
would fucking fly
so shake another from the blue box
until the box is empty, until
the storm emerges, until
we we are old enough to write
our names with more permanent fires, burned
onto skin, onto tongue, onto letters on paper
and all, we imagine, longer than sky.
It was a dark and stormy night and I listened for a change
in the weather and counted all the pills that have piled up
in jars and plastic bottles and little containers which count
the days of the week -- each one a colored star I find myself
wishing upon as I never wished before. Zinc for bones,
cod liver oil, one-a-day, vitamin b for hangovers, vitamin e
for scars and burns and others I collected
without counting. Forgotten children, they sit in the back
of the chest. It was a dark and stormy night and I was counting
all the things that could fall, all the things I could pour,
all the things left behind.
Stormy night, she says
and dark, I says
and dark, the parrot says
and dark, she says
and we cover ourselves, make a cage
of blankets. I like to think, she says,
that this will be
the end of the world.
Tonight the storm
will rise and swallow
everything which can not
or will not float. This futon
will be our raft, the place
we'd swim to in summer
where parents could only see shapes
and not the point of prick or
white skin hid, water slapping
like tennis balls against the side.
She says she is sad
that this will never be the end of the world
that there will be a tomorrow and the day after tomorrow
until the dark and stormy night when the power went out
when the light bulb exploded in its socket,
when the parrot learned to say dark,
when we built a cage we understood and understood us
will be yesterday and then the day before yesterday and the decade
before yesterday when the sheets were smooth, unwrinkled
light and white as popcorn and the world was ours and ours
alone. She says she can think of ghosts while holding me close, she says
it does not matter that the world is ending, that shadows
become ghosts, that her thoughts are often haunted
by the man I am not. The man I am
likes being alone at the end of the world with you, I says
The only thing there is in the world is the end of the world, she says
And shards, I says
Put your slippers on when you get up, she says,
careful what you step on in the dark.
Dark, the parrot says.
Ryan Van Winkle is a poet, performer, podcaster and critic living in Edinburgh. His first collection, Tomorrow, We Will Live Here, was published by Salt in 2010 and his poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, AGNI, Poetry New Zealand and Prairie Schooner. He is a regular contributor to the Prairie Schooner blog and was awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson fellowship in 2012. He is also the host and co-producer of the arts podcast The Multi-Coloured Culture Laser and the poetry podcast for the Scottish Poetry Library.
Image: "Beach erosion" by Kevin Dooley