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Ode to Moving Targets

He drinks milk when it’s offered. He sleeps enclosed
by wood. The couch and stairs and water are not yet those

things. They are blur and want-to-touch. He always thought the way
stars know us was wrong and that raccoon always scurried

onto someone else’s roof, but this morning the bees draw
his attention. They buzz and you buzz. He sees

the handsome beads of jade, a cup on a counter edge,
a quarter coming to rest after spinning. He sees a monument

or hands that reach deep into the future’s neck
to pull out vein and cord. Sixty years ago sparrows built

under this bridge, their muddy  nests clinging to the timbers.
The bellows of wings pried open the wind and in the stagnant

water below, a blur of brown baskets. A reflection can never be
precise enough to make decisions by: one whorl transferring

energy from the center throws the whole thing out of whack,
but we depend on likeness all the same. If there is certainty

in the chambered nautilus or the armadillo, it’s lost
to constant renderings. Believe the outlines you can feel,

the margins that slip against the fingertips, not the signs
that vanish when you choose to close your eyes.

It’s like imagining disease: coal dust settles densely
in a young man’s lungs, time-bombs, disruptions

marking him invisibly from the inside, corrosion starting
from the center out, so that only more injury can reveal

that damage has already been done. His job now is to stand
utterly still, absorb shock, and pretend

he might catch up with decay’s head start. He’s been drinking
the milk. He’s been sleeping. He is already dying meat.


On Decorum

I was taught to arrive at consequences
from the underside, ready to pay the

toll price piper cost.

There was to be no nicotine

sullying staining haunting ruining

the jacket’s lining,
and the rest of the afternoon
was to be smooth with the muscle
of iridescent fish

flopping shivering shining dying

across the butcher’s ice tray,
while a graveyard

yawned beckoned lay

in the distance, its stones
like teeth—elegant but useless
as a debutante’s organza gown
or her hapless pearls. Know

understand believe trust

each throat closes in the presence
of the dead.


Meditation on the Elements: Simultaneity

                                                           These days are a great blessing to men on earth; but                                                      the rest are changeable, luckless, and bring nothing.                                                      Everyone praises a different day but few know their nature.
                                                                                              –Hesiod, Works and Days


Don’t ask how the gods and mortal men sprang
from one source, because there are school buses
and lemon sharks and bananas, all gold enough
to blind you. You walk through a field of daffodils
on that cool day that feels warm after months
of ice, of thick mittens and hats that muffle sound.
With all the layers, we refuse to yield. No sign
is bright enough to warn: something’s crossing
against the amber light, and let it be cowardice,
or a reign of bees, or the feel of fresh butter
in your mouth. Turn back: And they lived like gods
without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil
and grief, if that’s possible, though it must be.
Somewhere. Not here. Here’s a marigold flaming
from the ground like a rivet. Here’s a reflection
of the sun magnified in an ordinary puddle,
the kind a kid jumps across wearing a slicker
and boots after a quick storm. Here’s an omelet
sputtering on the stove, and ears of corn pushing
against the wind. Across the street, a hearse idles.
The mourners glance down to check their watches.
If only things were simple. When they died,
it was as though they were overcome with sleep,
and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth
unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint.
Simplicity’s for angels and dogs, not some schmuck
running for a taxi, cheese sandwich spoiling
in his briefcase. Not much is easy and even less
makes sense. We can’t explain our system of error
and compromise. We know what turns the skin
gold and we can fix flats and prices, then sell high,


though it’s less noble by far. It was like the golden race
neither in body nor in spirit. A child was brought up
at his good mother's side an hundred years, an utter
simpleton, playing childishly with Botox, latex,
the substances of pleasure bought on credit. Many
pregnant mares urinated to soften the effects
of time. We can replace other kinds of plumbing
with plastics, shiny chrome fixtures that turn
on a dime, and on the bulletin board signs appear:
Lost Keys! Lost Cat! Lost youth is not so far
behind, when the brain tells you there are ways
to ease from behind the wheel of a trip no one wants
to take. You could arrive to find a friend
in his own home.  But when they were full grown
and were come to the full measure of their prime,
they lived only a little time in sorrow because of their
foolishness, unless the story’s end is its beginning,
a commencement attended by dolphins and whales,
things with tails and fins, sleek grey shapes
whittling through time against a backdrop of tongues.
There’s not enough time in the world to make up
for what’s been missed, but we try and try: for
they could not keep from sinning and from wronging
one another, nor would they serve the immortals, nor
sacrifice on the holy altars of the blessed ones
as it is right for men to do wherever they dwell,
unless they dwell too long on surfaces, the glittery
locket holding a hank of drying hair. The proof
of faith is a dainty chain tethering what’s most
precious to the wattle of her neck. Turn back: the sky


blushed toward the hour, and it was terrible and strong. 
They loved the lamentable works of Ares and deeds
of violence; they ate no bread, but were hard of heart,
unlike the doughy peacocks prancing in Brioni
and Kiton. If all this sounds terribly sad, it is,
but not because the shells fell to the earth, dulling
the sense of time or space, and not because there hung
in many homes a brown haze that obscured the sun
so the shine on weapons dimmed. They took up arms
against themselves. They misinterpreted sculpture,
the way a criminal tries to guess what answer
may suit best, or makes him look less like himself.
Great was their strength and unconquerable the arms
which grew from their shoulders on their strong limbs. 
Their armour was of bronze, and their houses of bronze,
and of bronze were their implements: there was no
black iron, unless you count droplets of blood that
dried into the dirt. A favorite pastime, that.
We loved to count, and taught others to count, too:
one, two, buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door,
but already the vapors had slipped across the rings
where the matador challenged the bull. Go back:
grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them,


but to the others father Zeus the son of Cronos gave a
living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell
at the ends of earth.  And they live untouched except
for the internet, which zigged across the planet as
nothing ever had before. The possibilities invade
every cell of every hero—appear here and there at once,
save everything you can, and more, because not only
can you be in many places at once, you are more you
than ever before. Your reputation precedes you
and it follows you, and you follow all your hero friends
on Twitter. You friend other heroes’ friends and so on,
and so on, until you reach a certain limit and the
game warden has to pull you aside and remind you
what is meant by sorrow in the islands
of the blessed along the shore of deep swirling Ocean,
happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth
bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far
from the deathless gods and their potted biographies.
Sure, everyone will suspect you are not the child
of your father, and everyone will try to spirit you away
with candied plums and secret missives smuggled
into the palace of your life. Everyone will suppose
your death was not as mundane as it seemed—crash
of metal, crash of rhinos, crash-landing landing
you in some mysterious swamp no one knows
the name of. You are not here now, and no one


succeeds you. For now truly is a race of iron, and men
never rest from labour and sorrow by day,
and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay
sore trouble upon them, in the form of technical glitches
that send a whole city into darkness at noon, the bit
of idle time chomped and spat to the ground.
If we can’t load this page or that, we die or think
we will—the speed of quitting’s picking up.
Go back again: discover there will be no favour
for the man who keeps his oath or for the just
or for the good; but rather men will praise
the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Much like
faux news or the town gossip’s shriveled tongue
curling around the old lies: if only things were
simple again. The world twists on its axis,
a figure skater tightening her scratch spin
who wants nothing but to go faster without losing
the details we enjoy. Go forth and season
your skillets with reason and peace, the myths
brought down, when strength will be right
and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked
will hurt the worthy man, speaking false
words against him, and will swear an oath upon them.
Oh, maybe that was all right when there were matters
that mattered, but now, it’s all the same to everyone
who can buy portable media storage, spin
a drive to protect the data and make backups.
Let’s secrete them here, there, everywhere,
in the resurrection plants and in the water bear.
We can return to them when it’s time, but not
now, when bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men,
and there will be no help against evil. I’m ironing
the last of the shirts from the basement, trying to
de-crease the fabric so that it hangs smooth.
Everything that’s happened can happen again.
We still refuse to yield. At the edge of our vision:
the gates across the street, swung open to admit faith.



They asked her about geometry
and she replied with a description
of the discovery of penicillin. They asked
her about the guillotine and she told them
about beignets and Baba au rhum.
They asked her about phobias. She told
them about religion, about love
that happens offstage. They asked
her about Galileo, and she mended
the hems of their maps. They inquired
how to make a fortune and she alluded
to Darwin. They wondered when
the earth began and she clicked
her stopwatch, her heels, her pen.
They asked why we made streets
and she took off her shoe. They asked
her about etiquette and she gave a lecture
on the constellations. They wondered
why photographs feel so believable
and she bought them tickets
to Spain. They asked about
exposition. She handed them puppets.  


Margot Schilpp’s third book of poems, Civil Twilight, will be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in early 2012. Recent poems have appeared in Copper Nickel, Tar River Poetry, Crab Orchard Review, Anti-, DIAGRAM, and Cincinnati Review.