Oculi by Mark Wagenaar


If weather’s the marginalia of our dislocation
there’s a few notes in the northdrifting clouds
that describe your face when you left home
the first time, above the ankle-high crops
in acreage squared-off by county roads gone
to gravel, tiger lilies still a memory of last year’s
ditches. And the blue silk cornflowers, the ladders
we climb in sleep to dream—no trace yet.
Sometimes to make sense of nowhere I long
for counsel from someone who has made a homeland
of exile itself. What tongue could ever have enough
words for departure? I wait with all the evenings
I didn’t make a buck at the restaurant.
I long for the confessions of clay pigeons.
And the rubber deer shredded by broadheads,
slow death that rehearses countless deaths.
Some of the fertilizer spread today, I know,
will end up in the dead zone of the Gulf of Mexico.
Some in our drinking water. Maybe this ex-pat
would push a piano into an empty grain silo.
To hold up a mirror to our hunger.
We see these things from the wrong side,
he’s saying, a heap of stones
instead of the Sphinx’s face. And on the other
side of hunger? And on the other side of—
but he begins to play, with his one good hand,
the 20th century playing along with him, a movement
for each border drawn last century.
Hearing his song in the long grasses
of abandoned homes, I cross a border
of yellow police tape. Why here is where my city
begins. My homeland for exiles. With a line
of luna moths pulled by heaven from the grass
to keep the planet spinning. With a dead deer
by the mailbox for our national animal,
pale ribs showing, like the first blossom-bursts
of moonhaunted Dianthus. A body to look
through, right down to the earth
where today my father, one of six bearers,
will lay down his father, with his 96 years,
his four languages. I’m a thousand miles away,
a border away, a lifetime. God’s push pins,
these ribs, they keep this town from flying away
over the fields. I don’t want to end up
where prayers do. But when did I ever
have a say. Did I say bones were blooms?
No, oculi that let the starlight in. Otherwise
how could I stand here, without a word,
as light floods the hollows that hold what’s lost?


Mark Wagenaar is the author of three books of poetry, including the Saltman Prize-winning Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining, just released from Red Hen Press. He is an assistant professor at Valparaiso University.