Ashton Kamburoff currently serves as the 2017-2018 L.D. and
LaVerne Harrell Clark Writer in Residence in Smithville, Texas
(USA). His poetry, essays, and nonfiction have appeared (or are
forthcoming) with Black Lawrence Press, Rust + Moth, Crab Creek
Review and The Naugatuck River Review where his poem “Revising The
Hexes” was selected by Kaveh Akbar as a finalist for the 2017
Narrative Poetry Prize. He is the poetry editor for Profane Journal
and the poetry co-editor for Opossum.
I read a story by Tim O'Brien about a soldier
who held a stone in his mouth and swore
letters ending in "Love," did not mean love.
Still, he would pretend. And the war went along with
him, a fantasy of soft, pink clouds behind mountains.
The moon, a white kneecap in a photo kept in his pocket.
When one body fell like a bag of concrete, dead weight
in afternoon sun, the soldier held his letters
above an open flame and swore death was his
burden alone. He sat in some pit, burying the grief-stone
under the ash of written words. Which is a story
I know, walking the Union Pacific utility lot
where boxcars along beds of gravel remain derailed.
Can I love someone new with each stone
placed inside my mouth? I would suck
geology to its erosion, tongue bitter limestone
to know I will survive one more night, a soldier
in a foreign hole, spitting out what keeps me alive.
Capablanca & My Father
My father, behind a cigarette, a cigarette behind
his smoking routine, wheezes through an exhale
as I explain "en passant" — a fifteenth century
defensive maneuver — a special type of pawn
capture. "It happens to your opponent
when they double-step off the starting file,"
I tell him. The pipes in our basement drip
at speeds slower than ponder. My father
turns his wrench against copper while
master chess players calculate eight moves
ahead. Seeing the future despite the present
separates their greatness from ours.
For months, I've counted out his coughs.
The dry-hock evening, the wet morning
hack. Capablanca said you must always
think toward endgame. Bent, L-like, like
a knight threatening mate, my father
presses out his cigarette. The glass ashtray
full of these moments. "En passant.
That's French." He knows what it means
when fittings refuse their water.
I walked with what I thought to be a deer
acre-slow and silent beneath the doe-eyed moon.
I thought: to be a buck caught between harvest
and hunter's click meant orange was a season I'd love
so long as I continued roaming. Meadowless,
my map read like exit wounds photographed
by game wardens: eastward splatter of double ought,
westward scatter of birdshot. Shoot me
straight said no deer (buck or doe),
although their ears lean into honesty: the sound
of a chambered round's discharge.
"There's no taking back a pulled trigger"
my father said on the evening he gave me a bullet
shaped like an exclamation point. His hands
were shadows across green walls, a wilderness
where I walked with what I thought to be a deer.
Water and Glycol
My father was the dump truck's
busted axle. My mother, the rusted
bolt marrying two shears. My father
walked the attic steps, left a trench
in the wall with an X-acto knife.
My mother sutured the wallpaper
with glitter and glue, pearl rose
petals and a portrait of a snow
globe. It was then she bought
an axe with a reflection smooth
as the voice that promised to stop.
We still have the axe. It hangs
over every dinner and opens
each secret bottle of gin with
the precision that one word can carry.
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