Beasts by John Riley


And it must be faced
something wild moves through
your evening
perhaps a coyote
driven down from dry hills
has heard it is the night
you may embrace his embrace
or a fox fattened on dreams
will settle on your lawn
with no regard of stars
or wind or even the tilt
of the chimney smoke
remnants of your fire
or it could be just a crow
tired of the wire
fresh from a funeral
and an hour of cawing
at you beasts
padding by

by John Riley

Editor’s Note: The unusual enjambment pushes the reader off balance, yet is perfect for the narrative of this poem.

My Grandmother Becomes a Young Widow by John Riley

My Grandmother Becomes a Young Widow

At the end of the day,
before the late summer’s dust settles
and the new gravestone blues
(it’s not a stone, but I’ll call it one)
in the moon’s glow,
she comes out of the time-trapped
farmhouse and hesitates—
a distant girl, balanced
on the edge of the porch steps
like a fragile-legged horse
at the rim of a quarry—
steps across the river stones
(each one hauled on a mule cart
up from the stream less than a mile away)
spaced around the dirt circle beneath
the limbs of the still-green maple tree.

I want her grief to glow before her, and charm.

But I am a foolish man.
She’s merely slipping out for a smoke.
A dull widow, weary of the mourners,
newly aware, but unconcerned, that it’s possible
to die without consequence.
In her hand the cigarette glows.

The dead never live up to expectations.
I want her life to pass in a world without meridian;
awake to the immensity of a hope to take wing—
to turn and catch a glimpse of me waiting here.
But she is not meant to be recalled.
Is now, and was then, gone.

The wind picks up. She yawns. Grinds
the cigarette’s spark beneath her heel.

by John Riley, first published in Sliver of Stone.

Editor’s Note: The meticulous imagery lends this narrative a contemplative air that draws the reader into the speaker’s emotional context.