Stephen Haven – The broken bottle

Stephen Haven LEP&W V4 Dec 2022

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Four December 2022.

The broken bottle, poems by Stephen Haven.

The broken bottle

What was that mistaken midnight, when without
Your brother, drunk with the swish of your
Own promise, you wandered to the Broken Bottle?
High School basketball shooting star!
Which of the parched men cheered you
Earlier that evening, then ushered in the mug
Of each gaunt letter, each lost job, then held
You down in the quick of that moment,
Signed for no reason you could ever imagine
Their names on the bloom of your cheeks?
The initials of two slashes on each?
The shattered glass secured you to the mirror
Of your unshaven future. Each morning now,
At daybreak, they glare from your sleep-drenched face

Coastal redwoods

Djerassi Foundation, Woodside, CA

You arrive in a strange oasis of time,
Sit on a mountainside, then off in the distance
Numb in the Pacific cold you dip your toes,

The air still warm around you, a bird calling
Above the white girdled horizon, the smoke and mirror
Of that show. Through a cracked signal

Each day your love phones. No one can say
Where the blank line divides those two robin eggs,
Water, sky. In the Asian midst of someone passed

Or passing, one wears a white dress, you yourself the line
Where your father, your mother once died.
The mist that never quite quits is a hand that lifts

Like a yarmulke from your bald tête.
Even as you shoulder only a water bottle
You go suddenly Atlas. It’s a tough business

Muscling the power forwards
Of endless sky at every side of you
Crowding the edge of your polished head.

Your inner gym rat pushes back. It’s mostly
The redwoods you admire, roots that sink
5 or 10 feet, bundled together underground

So that they might truss
Their backs against an arctic blast
Or the slow seduction of gravity’s long pull.

The tips of those trees sip
From that ocean mist, suck moisture
Through the hollow xylem. If your love were here

You would say to her, Buck it up, hon,
Let’s get our orphan on! When those
Mammoth trees drop, shoots drill out around

A rotting stump, spiral outward, upward
Clear the center of that circle, tap
The still stirring roots. Otherwise, too ingrown,

They wither, die. They call them Cathedral Spires,
More whimsically Fairy Rings. It’s then you say,
But can it work for two? Just so, my nub, I enter you.

On the Kennebec River

The kids are lashing logs together, drilling boards,
Screwing, binding, sawzalling till they call it
A barge. Freedom’s deep in this

Late August Maine when it treads
The river swift, fate swimming fast behind it.
Two canoes, three rafts nothing more

Than old sheathing weathered in the yard
And strapped to a picnic table
Four blue barrels. On top they mount

An awning and a grill, Miller on ice
Side saddling each swamped vessel.
Call it a flotilla, rubber Family Dollar rings,

Everything launched in the tidal flow.
They’ll ride to the sea. That’s the kids’ plan.
Surf the high life back again. They don’t fear

The shallows or the Harbor Master’s glare.
They laugh off any face-off with the Man:
Boating regulations? Sir, you see

Any boats around here? Five miles upstream
My daughter tells me, Park your worried
Dad-eyes, Dad! Learn to let it go! We all take

Shots but mine are photos, cheer
The possibilities of their ripped currents,
No dollars stitched to the river width.

I steer six beers to a rented cabin
Remembering especially a Gallo half gallon,
My father’s old Corolla, the black lift

Of an Adirondack highway, cutting through
The absence of all color that seemed
Winter’s strip tease. Sharp in the face

Of those adolescent midnights
In the tick of that split line
The safe glide home was the lie I told.

Whatever there was of fate and freedom
There was a fishtail between them.
The radials gripped the hard, glazed road.

© Stephen Haven

Stephen Haven’s The Flight from Meaning was a finalist for the International Beverly Prize for Literature. His earlier poetry collections include The Last Sacred Place in North America, selected by T.R. Hummer as winner of the New American Prize for Poetry; Dust and Bread, winner of the 2009 Ohio Poet of the Year prize; and The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, North American Review, Salmagundi, Crazyhorse, The European Journal of International Law, The American Journal of Poetry, Arts & Letters, Blackbird, Guernica, Western Humanities Review, and in many other journals. Twice a Fulbright Professor of American Literature in Beijing universities, for 12 years Haven served as Director of low-residency MFA Programs, at Ashland University and at Lesley University, and for 24 years he served as Editor or Director of the Ashland Poetry Press. He is Core Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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