Aseem Kaul is a doctoral student at the Wharton School of the University
of Pennsylvania. His work is forthcoming in RATTLE, RHINO, Poetry East
and Nthposition.


At the edge of the cliff, a playground--
a second childhood--
precarious as a perched wind.
Sitting on the swing, I am Time:
offering myself to the horizon,
then drawing back again,
reckless as a pendulum
whose minutes run too slowly,
then too fast. In the valley,
houses graze the sunlight,
and the darkness spreads
like the stain of something dank.
The mountains are dreaming
their dream of mist. And a bird sits
in the barren tree, intent as a radar,
testing the silence to see
how far it extends. Look how easily
the world opens before us, how,
without warning, the earth falls away.
Even to stand now is to lend weight
to the thin air--as though
you had dragged these mountains
out of your past, as though you had
carried them with you,
brought them too far.
Already defeat hollows
your lungs, your breath is
an erosion you cannot escape.
Stone by knocking stone,
your heart is preparing
its final landslide. Behind you,
a path winds its way
like a frayed thread, while high
above you the tops of the trees
are wrestling with the sunset,
trying to hold on to its fire.


Everything I pick
says too little
or too much.

We survive
on a language of additions:
our words doubled, tripled,
echoed back to us;

an impromptu crossword of meanings,
sometimes disputed,
in which it becomes
impossible to fit
the things we wanted to say.

If there is poetry here,
it is in our need to connect
one thing to the other,
our need to locate ourselves
in the network of another's words.

These are dreams
drawn from a jumbled bag;
this is the difficulty of stringing
all seven days together
to make a week.

You tell me
you have your own rules--
that for every word I put down
you will take one away.

That seems fair.

But in the end
it is the things I didn't say
that you use against me;
the letters I am left with,
the silences I couldn't fill.

These staccato conversations
that I always end up losing.


Clouds like bruises
that the moon touches gingerly.
Airplanes rising like difficult stars.

In the dark, the galaxies
are civil, but distant. Somewhere a car
passes, laughing irresponsibly,

and lampposts are busy
with rumors of bats. At this hour
even the windows are asleep.

Only the staircases
are left alight, spines holding true
to a principle of burning.

Next door,
at the construction site, the scaffolding
is a ship drowned in air

its masts ragged
with tarpaulin weeds. Shipwrecked
by traffic a man sleeps on the pavement

while another walks by
looking for shelter, haunted
by the night's absence of ghosts.

From the tops
of the skyscrapers tiny lights
wink their prayers to the passing gods,

knowing we are too small
to be noticed, expecting no reward,
asking only that we be spared.

Sunset at Lake McDonald

After the cutting of the day's engines,
the voices lapping
against night's invading prow.

Snatches of conversation
fall through the air like insects,
landing on my page, distracting
me as I sit on a bench
reading Dickinson,
so that I lift my head
and watch the wind slur
the accents of the waves,
the light darken with impatience
as the sky tries on
dress after dress.

Shadows gather
in the scoop of the hills
and the mountains,
indulgent as parents,
watch as we throw
our pebbles into the lake,
our urgent business
to get rid of the world.

And I think back on this day,
remembering places I have visited,
sights I have seen, the light
around me taking on
a quality of yearning,
like the eyes of the dog
beating his way back to shore
with a stick in his mouth.

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