Matt Byars: Three Poems

Atlanta Summer Storm

The clouds rolled in, because that’s what clouds do—
they roll. Oh, sometimes they drift or float or even scud,
but isn’t it nicer when they roll,

having accumulated somewhere else?
Perhaps they built up over Alabama,
like an angry mob, coming from the various parts

of nowhere, like the spectators that gather
at the scenes of fights and accidents.
But unlike those somber, stationary crowds,

the storm moves, picks up momentum,
crosses the state line, makes its way across the sky
as it begins its ponderous march to the sea.

It must’ve started hours ago to be here now,
but regardless, here it is—
what was blue earlier, now gray;

where there was tranquility, violence;
chaos where there was calm.
And there, amid the flash and fury,

the sky speaks, throwing its voice from cloud to cloud
and down to the timid earth, where we wait,
as frightened of what can hurt us as of what cannot.


A Midnight Train in Georgia

In the near distance, perhaps a mile or two,
a whistle blows—a train, announcing itself,
its rumbling weight on the tracks,
the approaching clip-clop of its iron hooves.

The whistle calls the only name it knows
into the broken silence, the same name
it calls at every crossing, in every town,
not knowing what dreams it interrupts,
not caring whom it might wake.


My First Time in Paris

It was in the first grade, I think,
that my teacher, Mrs. Green, got crafty.
With several boxes of plaster
and a package of paper plates,
we set about the task of imprinting—
the sort of gooey project loved by all
right-minded six year-olds.

Each with an empty plate before us,
Mrs. Green mixed and poured the plaster
and then—this was my favorite part—
instructed us to spread our fingers
as wide as we could, and thrust
our hands into the denseness of it
and simply be still for a while,
feel it cold and wet as it hardened,
making our life-lines somehow permanent.
When we took our hands out of our plates,
we saw the replicas of ourselves that remained.
After scratching our names at the bottom
(with toothpicks, as I recall),
we brushed some brownish liquid
over the surface, to give it texture
and depth, to make it readable.
The next day, we took them home
and proudly offered them to our parents.

When I visit home, there I am,
on a small ledge above the kitchen cabinets.
Sometimes I take it down, and smile,
and try to fit my hand into it again.
When the visits end and I am gone,
my parents stare up at it sometimes,
and try to put my hand back in it, too.