David Rigsbee – Reenactors

Rigsbee LE P&W July 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing July 2023

Reenactors, poems by David Rigsbee

These poems will be published next June in the Watchman in the Knife Factory:  New and Selected Poems, which Black Lawrence Press will bring out.  Here’s the announcement –


It’s likely no one will dream again
of the light dripping down the leaves
swaying lightly in relation to each other
at the behest of air. Nor will it seem important
that the mailman’s arrival at the end of the block
brought a throb of anxiety. Whatever would seem
the point here. I thought how my relatives sat
like Confederate reenactors around family-style
orders of barbeque and slaw. One provocateuse
turned to me and asked for a grace.
That it was an examination was lost on no one,
their lowered eyes peering up to watch.
I felt like rising and heading for the exit
with prow-like dignity, leaving the room,
I hope, stunned. Instead, I burrowed
inward and mined the script of childhood,
which said, “I am you,” saying grace
but also meaning, “I am not you,”
Not in pious helplessness, but in fact.
Something in the next moment pulled me,
and I was out of there, though I sat
and finished the meal, wiping my mouth,
tossing the napkin onto the empty plate.

The Thousand Acres

Two years back he was startled
to find her, and to find in himself
an opening in the rockslide debris.
But in a strange place of distances
and unfamiliar noises, she took him
by hand and led him up dry hills,
past herds of antelope and mule deer,
until they came to a windy prospect:
cattle-fence-bound valleys, hills in bunched
array, then smoothed into prairie, all
belted and parceled. They called it
The Thousand Acres. Here they sat
and stared out over the new world:
every horizon rimmed with mountains
already snow-topped, the whiteness
a filament not even thread, awaiting a tailor
of the imagination, maybe, and there was
no way to know that the first desire
that charged their bodies in nights
of love and days of friendship, like poetry
and prose together entering some canon,
contained a flaw none saw coming,
so high was the start of it, so long
the view. Just so philosophy routs
the striving poem, and what was classic
in the shape of desire tithes the clouds
and bows before the languorous
sweep of broad, impassive shadows.


Enough to fill a stadium.
A term of venery would be
“an embarrassment of seeds.”
They twirl beyond their source
to escape the shadow of precedence.
This is fact. Robins suddenly
aiming to listen to soil
plop down from thickets
to parade before you. It’s like
a recurring dream in which the old
friend and the new switch places,
confounding time. One scissors
a writhing worm. There you stand
holding the pliers before the gutter,
its end bent, trapping such substance
as the seasons determine. Now
to turn to the waste and the dead.

Red Wall

Consider the lintel: summer opens:
Aphrodite plus sparrows,
hot stones the size of office safes.
Regardless, the past follows,
like Melchior without makeup,
while a turtle slumbers on a stump.
Maple leaves squirm on their twigs
when a breeze bellies up and through,
invisibly, antic. Then the neighbor
with the black knee brace and that gait
drags her green bag to the curb.
Telephone poles, misaligned, trail off
behind smaller trees, pulled in every direction,
but steadied by guy-wires anchored
in the prim, fussed-over lawns
where black-eyed Susans and sunflowers
stand up in their beds. So martyrs
were painted in Italy once, tethered
to their stakes, their upward eyes seeking
some sign of coherence from beyond
the canvas. Because the light seemed to come
from everywhere, I could see a brown spider
inch up a red wall, pause, and then turn to see
if there were not something there behind,
in pursuit, perhaps, before resuming
its trek up the layered shingles.


I was thinking of my uncle Bud who,
though uneducated, had a way with words.
“Them are stout buggers!” he would exclaim,
pronouncing them boogers, as he pointed
to the bluefish lining the pier’s edge.
“That’s some good eatin’ there,” he would add.
A fleet of clouds sailed overhead
followed by another, in pursuit.
These are my only literal quotes,
and so I associate him with fish, the way
the character in As I Lay Dying thought
his grandmother was a freshwater drum.
One day he toppled on the pier of a stroke,
passing out as his brain detonated,
and the other fishermen gathered around
the body, wondering what to do,
adjusting their caps and looking away
from time to time. There was nothing to do,
except to notify somebody. One of the men
peeled off and started walking, not running,
to the pier-house. Bud had wide blue eyes,
at canted angles, and a gap-toothed smile
that spread the endemic freckles of our clan.
The Atlantic shouldered in and the pier swayed,
bright clouds continued. Men stood about.
A wooden ship appeared in the distance,
then two. Their sails and the clouds a rhyme.

© David Rigsbee

David Rigsbee is an American poet, critic and translator who has an immense body of published work behind him. Salmon Poetry has just published his translation of Dante’s Paradiso, and Black Lawrence Press will bring out his Watchman in the Knife Factory:  New and Selected Poems next year.  He is working on a memoir and a new book of essays to be called The Keep of Poetry.

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