Two Poems

John Estes


How are you doing?

Fine. If nibbed, extra fine. To avoid inspection, I average every day I've lived, and will. Sorting out revelation from witness.

What are you doing?

As a rhythm overtakes a melody. As a slug cuts into paper, lays down ink. Moving sand to cut efficient (efficient as in free to drought and reassemble) paths; the native course of grassland rivers prior the corps of engineers.

What do you do?

Make a living living into likeness: like a sidedraft carburetor, like fartlek intervals, like the massacre at Béal na mBlàth, like milking a spider for venom.

Where are you from?

Where we never dry clean only.

Where do you hope to end up?

Where things we know as tropes—pain as hell, anxiety as inspiration, bosom of Abraham as presence of God, love as love—become the things they stand in for.

What has taken so long?

Picks and shovels, wet fuses; waiting on rope technology to catch up. Practicing escapes from the comfort of my own kitchen or living room. Practicing taking a punch.

Are you movable?

As what I am but hardly staying: as a hymn, as a feast, as type.


According to Nixon's Advisor

what cannot go on forever, won't.
Even interminable journeys,
idly passed carving pie-crimpers
from fishbone or scratching
epic scrimshawed scenes
on giant teeth, end.
Once in dock, wooden limbs
lost to rot get remade;
crew deserted or dead replaced;
speeches said, letters sent;
holds full of prisoners
and captured plunder unloaded.
If an artifact rewards the hours

lost to its making or use
it's probably worth the price
appraisers claim and auctions fetch.
But advice is another matter.
A famous letter sent to Lincoln
from the mother of a fighter
in the famous 54th advised him
to retallyate against the South
for selling captured colored soldiers
back as slaves. Her suggestion:
treat the rebel prisoners like slaves;
force them to make shoes.
She didn't broach the 7 dollars
more per week her son would earn
with a fair complexion;
the letter's being safe-kept,
climate-controlled in the archives.

A fallen leaf will leave its mark,
a budded scar or cicatrix that plugs
the whole against invasions.
Research now believes their yellow
and red alembics carry a tree's
defense to ground, seeps the nix
to any enemies daring
to overtake it. The research
suggests, as special prosecutions
long have known, swiftness
is nothing when compared to real
slow poison. In other words,
in ceaseless wars amusement tends
toward self-amusing. Horatio Nelson,
green visor shielding his good eye
beside his dark-adapted socket,
wore his wounds this way: with nimble
salute of his missing arm's upraised
stub he'd shout to passing vessels:
"I am Lord Nelson; here's my fin!"

For those like me not wholly at ease
with the tone of one's dysfunctions,
the Lord's example helps us off
the hook—as adoption saved Röntgen
the trouble of ever re-naming
the placeholder-x in x-ray;
as being fit for duty and obliging bear
small resemblance to the mangled
wring of a promise's fulfillment;
as the musket ball lodged at the base
of the Admiral's spine—"Drink,
drink. Fan, fan. Rub, rub," were his last
requests before they committed his
corpse to a drum full of rum
to preserve it—cured his worries
of being ill. Fair skies erupt
over loud Trafalgar and he passes,
as do other scandals regarding what
can go on forever, and what will.

John Estes teaches at the University of Missouri and lives with his family in Columbia. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, West Branch, Southern Review, New Orleans Review, Tin House and other places. He is author of two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve, which won a 2008 National Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America. See his Web site for more poems and prose.