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The Lesser Fields

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"Rob Schlegel has a mind of winter. Like the painter Morandi, Schlegel makes a world of absence and deprivation-our world, the world of human mortality-feel like plenitude. Imagine wanting to discover the place where you yourself 'have not yet happened.' Now imagine creating this place in a language of hard-won precision-a diction and syntax so elegantly austere that the smallest gesture becomes an explosion of possibility. The result is a book that feels rivetingly contemporary while resembling nothing else, a book that seems shockingly intimate while giving nothing away. The Lesser Fields is a guide-book to the world we've always known but never truly seen." —James Longenbach, final judge     “In The Lesser Fields, Rob Schlegel takes a lit match to the surfaces of his words in an act of poetic arson. Thus the poet wanders a landscape whose commonplace markers-fish, sea, trees, birds-are made disquietingly strange: ‘Before my mind / Can shape it, presence / Finishes a thought in my fingers.’ The natural world of language manifests with an incendiary beauty at once tender and dangerous, reckless and precise. This poetry burns subtly, but the heat is unmistakable.â€�—Elizabeth Robinson

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Economy of Winter

ePub

Sun peels paint from one side of the vacant house
and the fields turn fallow in the absence of tractors.

A sudden wind disquiets the chimes
and the half-dead cottonwood pays dearly

from its empty pockets; its heavy branches
nod bluntly, threatening nothing but the public road.

 

Ontogeny

ePub

Here and not here, I breathe away
the parts of myself I no longer require.

Would that they return as fish
orbiting globes of algae and every
now and then one might dimple
what I imagine will be my skin—

surface film or epithelium; body I fold
my body into; gravelcloud

and rainstem—a water unending
as the field where I pitch a dozen apples
toward the trunk of a tree until each one

having shattered into many pieces

is a length of horizon by which I measure
where I have not yet happened.

 

With Shut Eyes What My Mind Sees Does Not Belong to Me

ePub

In the city whose streets I knew
by the size of candles kept lit
for the neighbor’s missing children

I ate melons in a dusty kitchen
and pierced lures into the lips of fish in my aquarium

until each hook became a leaf
that floated out from the fishes’ mouths
and up to the water’s surface.

When birds lit on the front lawn
I scared them off with erratic movements.

The voices of my depressed and handsome neighbors
were roughly the same as mine.

Me and not me and the two halves
by the same name.

I lost some people and made a few mistakes.

Each day, I tried to give myself
a different name. Today, you are Jim
I would say, and vertigo might fill your veins

and you will surely lack direction.

Near the freeway entrance
I tried to keep certain thoughts at arm’s distance.
I watched a runaway kill snow with urine.

Above him, tiny birds
called out from their common nest.

 

Icicles Tine Barnward from the Barn’s Shallow Eave

ePub

Barbwire fence extending field to thicket
from which the flushed birds shed icy shells.

That I should climb each tree before I torch it.

Tongue and bone
abandon me for light resisting alignment.

If this is lament, drown it behind the dam
made with leaves
by the careful feet that mudded them there,
severed now and soldered
to the barn-boards, sun-bleached and split,
this hour into halves stacked in cords.

The fence through which wind blows snow enough
to bury it. Would that I envisage things real
only after I say them so—

against the knife’s tip, I slip its pale skin
weight of ash
essential to welcome—

as I dress the bird its feathers scatter.
Ecdysis or wind
in which sound begets particulates of sound
I have not yet lit to watch the flare and flare.

 

I Pack Her Suitcase with Sticks, Light the Tinder, and Shut the Lid

ePub

She used to sit on the forest-floor
and I would cut her hair until it piled up
onto the ground, like ash.

Tonight, her name is a leaf covering
my left eye. The right I close
for the wind to stitch shut with thread

from the dress she wore into the grave
where the determined roots of the tree
are making a braid around her body.

 

Illuminated Face

ePub

From the sidewalks I collect the feathers of birds
murdered by artists
who infuse their paints with the real.

What colors best stain the white beards of men
who mumble at five a.m.
as they wander the streets of America?

As a man, I am free and listening.
As a bird, I am wounded and asleep.

 

Near the Creek Emptied of Water

ePub

Dry-lightning and a thunder made
of needle and pitch—

a sock and its thread a bird found
outside the cabin, the bird

that disturbed the silence—by its feet
I hanged it with thread from the cabin’s eave—

and a tally of stains in the curtains.
These should be enough to keep the sick away.

 

Dusk by Flame

ePub

The sudden insects and a shirt tossed onto the pond.

Faceless, the moths trouble nothing but the flame.

Isn’t it all—
the before and after of every gesture—remotely elegant?

The barn on fire and the wool of the shirt are trances.

 

Allies

ePub

Until someone steals my coat
I am the younger brother
of each passenger on the train.

I polish their black shoes
and offer to clean the mirrors in every restroom.

At night I sleep and my siblings
try to see the passing fields
by looking out their windows

but the dark glass only reveals
their own reflections

so they think
if they could lighten their hair, they would.

If they could change their names
they would try that too.

 

Lovemaking in America

ePub

I watch a silent film about the sea and I am forced
To imagine the sound the schooner is making.

Upstairs, you fill the bath with everything that has
Or could ever happen between us.

You think you have lived this day before. Earlier
At the fair we found a magician who claimed
He could transport us to a place where the new version of me
Could find the new version of you.

But the magician was only a magician
Whose oldest son took his mother’s maiden name.

Somewhere in the future, we are remembering this day
And the wind is gentle over the grass as the old cows
Coddle their young and all of them lift their heavy heads
At the sound of tired people making love.

 

Secrets Objects Share

ePub

Fear is a glass float adrift in the harbor
where my mind breaks
in a weather made by its own waves.

To keep from weeping
I fold paper into paper boats—spinal
increments—the ornamental sterns.

The sea: is it copper or a month of tides
and what they might conceal?

Guardian, give me safe direction.
Release these palms from the public barnacles
and turn this voice into something more
than a scheme of pennies.

I am just a boy weighed down with fear.

Do I sail, or place bluebells
in each vessel named Melissa?

 

Economy of Winter

ePub

They might have been olives or grapes
or opulent rows of each, spilling over
the penciled border beneath four or five
cerulean strokes; cumulus loosened
from the sea-dark sky, suffocated

where the paper is wavy
from where you must have paused
to imagine the burdens of composing
within which a drought is composed;
some need within the image itself;

as the tree from which the paper was fashioned
required water, as did the fields
from which the family was fed—

though never enough—when the sun was low
over the house divided
by the single telephone pole,
its endless distance from these dying fields.

Some might say it is the image of a house.
But the house is the image of the tragedies within it.

 

People Live Here

ePub

Alone, she sleeps in this room. Thirty years
since Tony died
and his produce apron still hangs in the closet.

We hunt ghosts seeping out
from mortar between the chimney-brick.

On Division Street, her boy Jerry died
in a red car.

She walks that route with Louise sometimes.

She insists it is bad luck
to match the color of your house
to the color of the house you were born in.

Bad luck to go to sleep stormy.

The windows are open the morning
she first calls me Jerry
and living, she says, is a person at a time.

People gathered here after Jerry died
and the laurel collected a thin layer of dust.
Just wait until after the next rain, she said,
things will look the way they look again.

 

The Lesser Fields

ePub

Are you a branch in the hand of the unwell?
I am a corpse without will.

Are you walking in the field?
I am walking in the field.

Is there a book?
It is the Book of Woman beneath Water.

Have you touched the stone?
I have smelled its dry center.

Do you know the flowers?
I know the route to the sea
but the dark waves are resting now.

Are you asleep?

I am salt sorrowing the lesser fields.

 

The Snow Uncut Is a Field of Orphans

ePub

Whose gardens are shielded with ice

Broken only
By the grosbeaks of winter

 

She Drops Each Suture from Her Stomach into the Vase on Her Bedside Table

ePub

Varnished black
Like the fruit

She tucked beneath a blanket
In the baby cradle

 

A Boy Is Kicking the Stomach of a Dog

ePub

Whose teeth remain private

Whose fate grows heavy this hour
In the morning’s frail logic

 

From a Sheet of Yellow Paper I Cut Bolts of Lightning

ePub

To scatter over the birds

Some dead
And some dying

All of them prepared
To return to this world as eyes

 

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