Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017


by Al Maginnes

The lash-thin clouds dwindling above
        a line of trees no longer shaved
by winter’s blade, but leafed in full
        spring array, remind me how many
spoken sentences trail into silence,
        hoping quiet can finish saying
what words did not.
The ellipsis at the end
        of the sentence spins outward
to the infinite, like dashes
        Emily Dickinson used to close
her lines, little echoes
        of the unsayable that all poems try
to say.
        The first time I went fishing
        was like that, the unsure sidearm
of my cast unraveling above
        the solemn listening of water.
We were casting, as far as I knew,
        for flashes of light, lightning drops
in the water
            and we pulled back
        bare hooks that said all
I would ever know about fish
        and water.
                   We know how
sentences should behave, bending
        to points as fine and inevitable
as blades or fish hooks, their danger
        hovering just where steel stops.
Philosophers believe the eighty-pound
        test line of their syllables will
reel in whatever whale
        of Big Thought they conceive,
one reason they stack words on top
        of words, believing there is language
perfectly matched to each thought.
        But for most of us, language will always
be the brother-in-law who got drunk
        and fell in the water the only time
the two of you went fishing,
                            the one
        who borrows tools he doesn’t return,
whose wallet is always at home
        when it’s time to pay for dinner.
Small wonder some prefer
        to translate the long trails
silence makes, like contrails
        a jet draws against the empty
paper of sky,
              a rain drop rolling
        down a gray panel of window glass,
spending itself as it moves.
        And rain returns us to the beginning,
to clouds, puffy breath-shaped poets
        who float without breath or anchor,
a grammar so endless and difficult
        we have only shapes, wordless stretches
to map the place
        all sentences move toward.    


SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

Al Maginnes

is the author of seven full-length collections of poetry: The Next Place (Iris Press, 2017); Film History (WordTech Communications, 2016 and 2005); Music From Small Towns (winner of the Jacar Press Award for 2014); Inventing Constellations (Cherry Grove Editions, 2012); Ghost Alphabet (winner of the 2007 White Pine Poetry Prize); The Light in Our Houses (Pleiades Press, 2000), which won the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize; and Taking Up Our Daily Tools (St. Andrews Press, 1997).

He also has four chapbooks published, most recently Between States (Main Street Rag Press, 2010) and Greatest Hits 1987–2010 (Pudding House Publications, 2010). And his poetry appears in numerous journals and magazines, including Poetry, The New England Review, The Georgia Review, The Antioch Review, Shenandoah, Tar River Poetry, and Quarterly West, among others.

Maginnes teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina, and has received a Writer’s Fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury