Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 1
Spring 2010

[Two Poems]

Rick Mulkey


Awake all night with the weight of age
on my back and neck, dragging my head
through the muck of a migraine, I look up
from my deck chair into sweet gum and pin oak
laced with dawn. Even here there are degrees
of darkness on the leaves. The neighbor,
an early riser, hidden behind the sheen of camellia,
whistles uncommon songs in his garden.
They are not of love lost or found,
or pain recalled, not songs
like that. They make sense only to him
and to his hound dreaming on the porch.
I think of the promise of blackberries,
how in summer drought they grow so tight,
dark and small, ripen with so much heat they taste
of the bitterness and disappointment of clay.
I think how we all want the rain
to touch our skin, how, as kids, our hands
wet after the storm touched the bark 
of apple and elm, how we waded through fields, 
bristled at the bearded chins of thistle.
We always begin to love the world
through our bodies. Each seed entering us
becomes us. Pears and plums along the stream
where young fathers fish for trout. Their lean
arms casting the line accept the wind gracefully. 
Mothers raise their round smooth faces like blossoms 
toward the sun. In their beds at night they dream their bodies
are the ancient fire original light sparked from.
This is why the body’s betrayal 
is so severe. The meadow understood
the river would wear it away.  The morning glory
knew dusk must peel its petals off.
The child’s body, naked and glistening in the lake,
expected always to be loved by the gods.



This far north the sun barely rises
above the horizon. It’s a strange,
November day in Scotland, clear sky,
frost sent hiding, and though I need to work
I’m cutting firewood after breakfast
knowing tonight the flames will fill the room
with brandy-colored light. I am living alone,
my wife and son across the North Atlantic,
and for the first time in weeks
I’m not afraid. Even the fleet-winged hawk
high above the hare seems more graceful
than severe. Joy for both is that moment
in the field, bright noon and shadow-free,
before the talon strikes.
I kick a stone down the yew-draped path.
A limb the size of my arm drops
into the river, and out of nowhere
the sky turns gray and rain begins to fall.
Too soft, I think. Too tender.
I find the heart ripped out by claws
less offensive than the slow wearing away
that takes its toll. Give me flash-floods
and lightning bolts, but not the patient
brook carving canyons in the glen.
There is no happiness in almost.
Memory’s filled with what we think
we’ve lived. Give me absolutes.
Give me the split atom and the big bang.
Give me the racing heart,
the hawk upon my chest, those two black eyes
the universe sent forth at its beginning,
and that great empty fist,
a flash against an iron sky.


“...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