New York City skyline at night


Spring 2009



D. Nurkse

Dice in Thuringia
    after Tacitus

We wrestled, rolled in love,
and wandered home drunk,
straw stuck to our bellies,
kicking a little smooth stone before us:
light side, dark side…

We gorged on dark windfall plums.
In the tea-colored forest pools
trout nosed to our braced hands.

No need to dig, but if we stumbled on a pit
we graced it with a canopy of twigs
and reaped bear, bison, boar.

Our northlands were so vast
between the Rhine and the frozen ocean,
we had no word for frontier.
Romans rotted in our fever swamps.

Who discovered it?
Was it a stone or a number,
six choices or none?
Who stooped and marked it?

Nestled in the hand
it held a memory of childhood.
However tightly we gripped,
we felt only our aching palms.

Then we knelt and contended,
feinting like deathless warriors
though always with the same gesture:
letting go, followed by counting…

We gambled away our wives and children
while they watched open-mouthed,
our Samartean and Parthian ermine,
our omen-coins, the die itself,
the white horses of Mercury, that know the future —
a hostile slave led them away whickering,
glancing back with huge scornful eyes:
we staked our greaves and cuirasses—
strange to have no armor,
as if the body itself were an eye,
an eye that cannot close—

and we bow naked to the yoke.
Already our master kneels beside us,
cups his hands, and begs
mercy from the Unknown God.


(Previously published in TriQuarterly)


Letter From Home

She writes, we would have voted against the war,
but all the candidates opposed it.
We joined the great marches in dead of winter.
We caught a Greyhound to the capital.
The luggage racks were stuffed with banners
neatly rolled: housing, schools.

We paraded through those icy avenues.
A few clerks gathered to applaud,
clapping to warm their numb hands.
In the tenements, hand-lettered signs supported us.

The soldiers said, we will not fight,
and the generals, there is no cause:
whom would we invade, she writes,
we were the greatest power, perhaps of all time,

then the war began, in the corner of the eye,
in the space between lovers in a narrow bed,
in that country between ticks of the clock,
at first it was mild and demanded nothing,
now to want to die would be a privilege,

now the war writes these words, and cannot stop,
though the nib splays, though I pound the keys.
Now when we protest, the civilians watch us,
gravely, with no judgement, from a single lit window.

They practice torture here, she says,
in the restroom of the library,
in the lockers of the stadium,
in the hospital, in the maze of corridors
color-coordinated for the insides of the body.
The laws allow it, but only as a last resort,
only if the city might be destroyed otherwise—

but we still undress each other, she says,
we love the ease of our shadows unbuttoning
on a dim wall, in the gleam of receding lights,
we make love, we sleep naked, when we wake
it is almost morning, in the great hush
hardly any cars are passing, how we listen
for the other's breath, for the pulse in the mind,
for silence itself, the silence of our city
that no one remembers but us.

We have created an external mind, she writes,
it has made our world small as a withheld breath—
if you want a weapon, you have only to imagine it—
it is like the mind of God before he created light—

Still a window blazes.
If we count long enough, dawn will come.
Still the cars pass.


(Previously published in Drunken Boat)



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