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Reading Frank Stanford

 

THE BASS

 

He jumps up high
against the night,
rattling his gills
and the hooks
in his back.
The Indian says
he is like a goose
passing in front
of the moon.

 

THE NOCTURNAL SHIPS OF THE PAST

 

There was always a great darkness

moving out
like a forest of arrows

So many ships in the past

their bows bearing women
as stalks bear eyes

The burning ships

that drove their bowspirits
between the thighs of dreams

With my ear to the ground
I heard the black prows coming

plowing the night
into water

and the wind comes up
and I smell the sour wood

leaving a wake I want to be
left alone with

Night after night

like a sleeping knife that runs deep
through the belly

the tomb ships come

1971

 

THE MINNOW

 

If I press
on its head,
the eyes
will come out
like stars.
The ripples
it makes
can move
the moon.

 

STRAPPADO

 

I was thinking about back then
before I thought I
heard chords on a flute
when there was no young bird
beating its wings inside my belly
no light in my eyes
This was long ago
before the wise shadows
of the fantoccini
commanded the land
when the moon
was the blind eye of a fish
in the back of a cave

 

THE PICTURE SNOW NEXT DOOR TO THE STAMP STORE IN DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS

 

The movie has not begun.
Girls from a private school
are forming their lines.
They have long socks on,
tweed skirts, blue weskits,
berets. The colors
of God and their school
are sewn in their scarfs.

My money and my hand
are in a machine.
The cup does not come down,
but the ice and cola do.
I make a cup with my hands.

They stand there, moving
in one direction
like does in clover.
The nun tells them to form.

Why are they afraid of me?

I am holding my hands together
like a gloveless hunter
drinking water in the morning
or calling up owls in the forest;
I am holding my hands together
like a hunter in winter
with his hands in the water
washing away the blood.

Outside, a man with a lunch box
walks past the marquee.
His new stamps
fly out of his hands;
orange triangles from San Salvador
fly into the traffic.
I am holding my hands
like the nun.

Then fly over Front Street.
He is looking up;
other people are looking up.
The stamps tremble
like the butterflies
from the Yazoo Basin
stuck to the radiator
of my father’s car.

The girls are in the seventh grade.
The backs of their thighs
and their foreheads are damp.

What are they learning?
Ballet? French?

The nun is on her toes.

Their booties dance
in the leotards,
rounding out like the moon.
They are making a debut.

The girls are following the nun
into the dark.
The movie is beginning.
The lid on the machine
comes down like a guillotine.

 

*

 

all from Frank Stanford’s The Singing Knives (Lost Roads Publishing Company, Number 18, 1979)

 

 

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