Quatrains for the New Year

TIM DUFFY

Midway up the hill, the house meets the ground above the schoolyard fence.

We are playing on frozen steel when the voices call us back again.

The party is beginning. The sandwiches are laid out on oilcloth:

apples for fall, gooseberries for summer, nothing clearly for spring

and for winter the small cranberries well-preserved that glow

through the plasticine ring of the frozen shrimp. We topple

the sandwiches like old graves. The shrimp will not thaw,

the cake was never bought. Everyone is drinking juice or cola

while the neighbors shriek in whiskey breath: it’s almost 1993.

The TV tray with its lone Spanish olive creaks in the pixelated cloud.

How much taller you have gotten, I hear, as the blues turn to yellows

and reds. A century of light is waning into an electric haze and even

the rabbit who burrowed under the deck has not been seen again.

The shrimp are frozen in their tidy ring. The mantle clock spins out the wrong time.

The television remembers the date. If we spin this moment out

sherbet coupes fill with canned fruit and everyone is wearing ties.

I have the pleasure of not yet being born, but until then, a toast

for when things go wrong. When no one knows what they’re there to say.

What a century. How long can we stay in it?

And what can we bring, if not only bells and imagined snow?

Note from the Author

ἀρκείτω βίος- Cassandra, The Oresteia

 

For the old ones, death is a language. The event

between events, the death that becomes another death

until prophecy is being the last to know.

so a door can be made of blood, the walls can reflect

a victory so inevitable it is unimportant, a far off city

crushed into submission, the woman brought to die

the woman blamed, the woman bold enough to kill

to avenge her child, until, ah! the man appears, his blame

as obvious as the beard on his face. She is smooth, porcelain

blood stained for eternity. Weeps over slain children,

the viscera of her daughter opened to air, in Ilium the same,

until the world learns how bodies can be reversed,

the ground soaked with blood, a vessel for screams,

the grass a perfect dactyl, fingers poking out of piles,

ground and ground and everywhere the gods aren’t

except some distant sky, a house with open doors to vent

new hatred, a revenging son. And always a woman weeping,

murdering before weeping, trying the mask of a monster on

if only because it is closer at hand in grief. Medea, the waters

move too quickly, they return all boats, we wait until the tenth year

for new knives, new shipwrecks, a new romance. The beacon light at last.

Tim Duffy is a writer and teacher working in Connecticut. His poems have appeared in Pleiades, Rabid Oak, Softblow, Bodega Mag, and elsewhere. He is also founder and EIC of 8 Poems Journal.

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