Henry Kearney IV – Four Poems

Pre-Dawn Pastoral

In its belly, the barn holds
horses and darkness.

Three crows in an oak
caw, chipping slight cracks
in the ice-sheet of morning.

Nothing.  Nothing happens anywhere
that hasn’t already happened here.


Like Newspapers in the 1930’s

I have a habit (as you well know)
of saving newspapers
and reading them months later.
You always thought this was crazy,
and it is, but that’s me,
the one you thought
you fell in love with.

I guess we’re old news now;
everything we did.

But that one night it felt so good
I couldn’t sleep afterwards,
and I got up because
a poem came to me,
actually came,
without the hours of blank pages,
the flipping through So-and-So’s collected
looking for a line to steal,
this one actually came;
and I got up at 4 am
and put some pants on and
went into the kitchen
and wrote those lines
about a girl finding love
physical for the first time.
And they were really
about you, of course, and me,
the weekend we’d just spent
at the beach, in love again
after a long fight.
But I wasn’t putting you
in poems back then.  Or myself
for that matter.

That poem that wasn’t
about what it was about
was what can be called
a breakthrough poem,
like this one,
it taught me something,
like this one,
it wasn’t very good,
like this one, but
was the best I had done till then,
and was actually put into print
by an anonymous rag,
and shipped to Virginia, Atlanta, DC,
and on up to New York
in the back of stocky gray delivery trucks,
the pages wrapped in brown twine
like newspapers in the 1930’s.
Or so I like to imagine.

I like to imagine
that in fifty years, granted
I haven’t killed myself
with whiskey, or smoke,
or myself,
that I will still think of that poem
and think of you,
of that weekend at the beach,
that one night back at the river-house,
the river, and how
we would drift there
on dollar-store floats
sipping Pabst Blue Ribbon
from bottles held carefully
just above the swamp water
cleaning itself on the way to the sound.

I like to imagine I
will think of all that and smile,
and by then I won’t remember
the fights, the lies we told
ourselves and each other.
I like to imagine I will just
the way your skin
stuck to mine on the beach,
that poem that wasn’t, but
almost was, and all the other
poems you gave me that could
have been good, but were bad
because I was afraid
to put us in them.


The Compass Rusts, Is Scarred

It is spring in a city renowned for romance
and stolen corpses.  All along il Bacino San Marco
young lovers have found old corners for loving,

and old men turn their collars up against the wind.
I am in one of the few parks in town, beside a bust
of Richard Wagner—who was born elsewhere,

but died here.  There are dandelions in the grass,
flowers I can’t name in the tall bushes.
The sunlight is settling shadows on the stone walk,

and the wind coming across the basin
feels so good it almost feels like the wind
coming off the mouth of the Chowan River feels

when you’re lying in a clover field
close by the clay cliffs above the sound,
and you are much younger than you are now.

Buoys mark the channel from basin to lagoon.

I can remember, in my uncle’s boat, following
the buoys out through Oregon Inlet
to fish for what I can’t remember.

I remember most pissing over the side of the boat.
What the beasts of the sea must think
of us, our strange machines

roaring right over the homes they don’t claim.
Some say fish have no remembrance,
but I don’t believe them.

And anyway, we remember.
We carry their breathing in our mother’s bellies.
It is a terrible burden.

Maybe some of us never lose those gills,
carry them deep down somewhere,
a secret breathing suffocating inside.

Maybe it’s just me.

Do you remember those young pines across the road
from my house, the ones we wandered through marking,
with a hatchet, a trail back out?

A big stand planted to be harvested and
dark even in the afternoon, it was the only place
we could get to then that we didn’t already know by heart.

And we didn’t really need to hack off that bark,
to scar our way across those acres.
We just had a hatchet and wanted

to use it, just wanted to walk
somewhere that getting lost seemed possible.
That was a long time ago:

before you had a daughter and I had a wife,
back when we were learning, together,
to walk alone.

Daddy wasn’t too happy
about us abusing his young timber
like that, but he wasn’t real angry either.

He just told me there was no need for that.
Said something like, “You shouldn’t have to
mark the way you came from;

worry about where you’re going,
you’ll always know the way back.”
And I do.

I do know the way I came from.
I could walk back right now
across continent after continent and find

the memorial I made
under the crepe myrtle for my first dog,
the one Daddy had to shoot.

I could.

But sometimes I think it might would have been
handy to carry a hatchet all these years,
to leave a few scars on a few trees,

and be able to find the way back by touch;
to feel under my fingers the way
the years had hardened

something other than me, and know, finally,
the way I was walking was right,
was leading somewhere.

But even then I wouldn’t.

Even now I don’t.


Labor Days

To make a chair.
A chair that is true,
and can be sat in
That can support
the weight given it.

A chair that will last.
Last so that the grandchildren
of its maker can know
its grainy flesh as real.
Can refinish.
Is that the work of a man?