Four Prose Poems

Stuart Dybek

Stuart Dybek

The Calliope of Summer

Across the alley the Calliope of Summer rented an old roominghouse
room. All through June the metronome of an empty rocking chair creaked
through the screen. But in July clownish moonlight fell across the garbage:
an eggshell opened one eye, shook the coffee grounds from a wig of potato
peels, and a smile spread across a banana when cowled in shopping bags
the conductor sprung out of the ashcan. Jack-in-the-box! What music!
Accordians of cats, tin drums beat and cymbals trashed while mice nibbled
at discarded clarinets. And to bent bugles, clothesline zithers, like kangaroos,
the ballerinas in long black topcoats danced all night to soft goat bagpipes.

Night Wandering Fall

The alley was like a river when it rained flowing with tin cans, cardboards, a
doll's head. I'd wake because of lightning, go to the window and look down:
flooded gutters, broken drainpipes like faucets, waves of wind splattered
against the window. Under the streetlamp the phantom of autumn would
look up at my face pressed against the trickled glass. He looked like a hobo's
shadow under the slanting lamp—a shadow, but not plastered against a
wall, nor spilled along the pavement, but standing straight up in the open
supporting himself under the driving rain under the raining light looking
up at me with wet newspaper eyes.

December Epithalamium

Our first winter night we propped a sky rocket in an empty quart milk
bottle. Wind kept snuffing out the matches so we huddled in a doorway
while I lit a cigar: the flaring match flickered your windflushed face like
a bride's blush. I tapped the ash and touched the glowing tip to the wick.
It crackled into yellow-orange sparks like a sparkler, hurried up the fuse,
while we edged back watching the rocket like a piece of July hissing in the
middle of a cold, deserted street—whooshing up past bare branches and
telephone wires, mirrored an instant on third story windows . . . Exploding:
silver, gold, red, pinwheeled to an arced moment of green and blue flakes
parachuting down as cinders, fading as we blinked our eyes. Th e smudged
milk bottle was full of smoke and we left it smoldering patiently to fill with
soot and snow.


comes to the window like mist. And tattered sparrows twittering back
laughter while the old woman children call "the witch" flings dry bread
handfuls to the garage roof. And the earth soaks up wetness like bread, crusts
turning penicillium green, sponging up drizzled rain. A butterfly blooms
like a stemless four-petaled flower over the mushrooms and catpiss fungi.
Feathery ferns, wispy dill await lilacs; black branches like skeletal wings;
grackles, crows, blackbirds returning like swallows, swooping low over wet
angled roofs. Spring. Angels come to my window like mist.

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