By Michael Dumanis
The poem was a razorblade, glinting and modern.
An archaeologist caught sight of it under the fallen
midsection of a Doric column in the buried
Albanian walled city of Butrint. He didn’t mean
to cut, but cut, his knuckle on its edge. The poem
was a two-story house on Burlap Street
in a forgotten segment of Chicago.
The poem was the path of the syringe
into the punctured vein, the spine propped up against
the house’s wainscoting. The snow that slipped
onto the house’s mailbox and the tree lawn
was not the poem, but the seasonal disorder
the snowblowers and calendar would cure.
Nor was the poem the lie the lover told
in the last letter to arrive that winter.
The poem was the mail that failed to bear
sufficient postage, having spent the last
ten years of its existence in a drawer.
Bulgaria’s covered in roses, the dead
letter intended to say to a lover.
The poem was a Bulgarian who loitered
in a Bulgarian pasture, blushing from
the thousands of roses paving it.
The poem was the Bulgarian’s bad posture.
The poem was his hair. I watched it turn
from black to silver in the time it took
for the chill Balkan sunlight to recede
into the ether. The poem was the ether
rag I would sink my lips and nostrils in
to make myself absent, feel better.
Were you to glue electrodes to its skull,
forcefeed it serum, tamper with its body,
the poem would disappoint or disappear.
The poem was untrustworthy, a matter
too slippery to not, too, soon, let go of.
In its tiara and the decolletage
holding in place the muscles of its chest,
the poem could be mistaken for you, reader.
Your eyes are not glass eyes, but might as well…
The poem didn’t know of its severe
astigmatism, its desperate need to tamper
with the official record of the past.
The poem was the past that failed to happen,
the panic in God’s voice each time he used it,
the doubting tone the Hebrew scribes were frightened
to indicate to those who hadn’t heard him.
The poem was not God’s voice, but the long sequence
of rapid breaths the sky took prior to opening
over Butrint and Burlap Street each morning.
Michael Dumanis is the author of “My Soviet Union” (University of Massachusetts Press, 2007), winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry, and co-editor of “Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century” (Sarabande, 2006). He is an an assistant professor of English and director of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center.