THERMOS 6: Shannon Burns

When I was a graduate student, Mark Leidner came to the bar one afternoon with a few copies of a chapbook called Preserving the Old Way of Life, just published by Factory Hollow Press. He said it was his favorite book, and it only cost a couple bucks. I opened it up to “Love Poem” and fell in love. I’ve taught poems from the book many times since, to the delight of unsuspecting poetry students each time. Jay Thompson was there that day, and he later asked Shannon for these (different) poems. Here they are, online at last, and I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. — AS

Prince of Persia

I’m in the desert but I have an idea
and the sand is fragrant. I’m forwarding grains
to other territories. The sand is strange but
I’m pushing on it.

Strands of elegant gold strewn on a knurled old tree
begin to rock and shudder and quake — it’s a party
or someone’s wedding, and a field of will comes
over the tree like a medicine and turns the gold
into a smooth, bright sand that rains on your face.

Somewhere your children shriek on a trampoline —
Even good children shriek!
and their shrieks turn to sand inside their mouths
and sandy their lips
and sandy their teeth
and they cough and spit
sand and shriek and shriek.

At home you find you are reclining on a knoll
of sand and roll duly onto your belly. The sand
roughs your cheek and goes in your ear forever.
Your repose is heavy on the knoll and changes it.

At dinner you begin to feel your knees rise
to meet the underpart of the table. Says your date
“You always look sad when you’re eating.”

A chair, collapsing beneath you, puts you
face-to-face with a dog. Do you know the dog?

In the not-great distance, a screen of sand
conceals the gathering speed of your enemy.

You’ve lost your hands. Withdraw them from the sand.

Please do not spend hours roaming
your hot house in the summer looking
for the things that have become sand.

Do not watch it form in the wake
of your lover’s noisy withdrawal.

I am only hollowing out a little groove
here in the desert that I may have a house
and fall around in it as you do.

Futuristic City

I’m looking everywhere for you
in a futuristic city. I see you through
a poisonous fog! Now I’m screaming
that I see you and howling.

The lights are horribly bright —
I rub my eyes hard until I’m
spiritedly massaging my face
and have forgotten you.

Acid rain falls on me and
I have forgotten you.
Futuristic debris is mauling me and
I have forgotten you.

My face is irritated and bigger.
My head is the futuristic moon but
gentle, flaming balmily like a past moon.
My eye sockets itch beneath my eyes
and spark dully. You are circling my swollen
lambent face and I have forgotten you.

Damn you’re suspended upside-down
from a hovercraft and trying to kiss me! But I am,
unbelievably, still massaging my face —
I have forgotten even politeness.

This city is a bitter joke, a cloud of bolts,
forget me. I am lost to my itchy familiar
moonface. Your hands are a blue odor-
less tumbleweed. I can’t quite feel you.

This Explains Everything

Last night I thought I felt a worm in my stomach. I thought it was a worm with a needle head and a needle tail. Not a snake. A fish. This explains everything. Every time I think I feel something extracurricular in my body I think for one second, this explains everything. There’s a knife floating in my neck. My bicep is ruffled. My heart is in my leg. This explains everything.

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