20 | Pathos | Poem for a House Forever Disordered | Poem for Something Lost at the Bottom of a River


The old man passes me
an onion —white with purple streaks
and starts to talk about this death:

…not quite a mob…a conglomeration, star-faced…breaths held long enough to let the faithful through the gate…there were so many faces…their many startled looks…there was this river beyond them…dictating its own terms of worship…its current cut with ghost ships and afternoon traffic…static and slumber and destitution…no sight of that other side…the widest river…I swam there and my feet grazed the sandy bottom…I was ushered, my body a trick my soul was unlearning…my skull was a boat and lightning sizzled in the broad daylight…light on light on light…somewhere an animal barked…harshest bark thinkable, as if about to be flogged…bark like a cracked bone…the fields along that water…I waded then stumbled to them…filled my pockets for no reason…why would one eat, being dead?…I even laughed…since then it has been endless disembodied fingerprints…or if you prefer, moonlight through a keyhole…hold on to it for as long as you can, even as it rots…do not remember me by it…

Poem for a House Forever Disordered

The walk in sleep to the sunlit attic to investigate a strange noise: blue-headed hawk that doesn’t exist glaring from a rafter.

James Wright, it is 4:00 am and our young dog is sick, hunched in the yard. I do my best to console him before going back to bed and falling / into my mind:

the Roman army assembles under a great bloom of dust. Italian countryside both in the distance and underfoot. Marching toward war under advertising banners, the slaves carry two-liters of Sprite / and twelve-packs of Amstel Light. My boots don’t work right: tangled, maybe sabotaged. I know this is how I will die but I know also that I’m just one of many camera angles sewn together by some heartless director out there.


A hole in the Ohio River where a girl died many years ago. A grave in New York City. A bar in Minneapolis, razed decades ago.


We’ve been in our new house ___ months. An old woman lived here before us. Today a dozen of her tulips broke into blossom. Strange to take the credit.

Her name was Alyce; yes, with a “y.” Maybe born around the same time as your Jenny. Or your Liberty. Or your Annie.


At war with my neighbor who doesn’t cut his grass, I cut mine lower and lower to emphasize my displeasure. Who has time for this shit?

I know his blood, your blood, everyone’s blood to be bright or dark, depending on the light. I know it is dragging us, as you’ve so carefully pointed out, down / together.

Poem for Something Lost at the Bottom of a River

The light above my kitchen table sways as if in some cabin / of a boat headed for harbor / under the northern Pacific sky.

If you stroll, William Stafford, down the back walk between our garage and shed, you’ll see the old brick-plotted garden we’ve let grow wild. A noble rhubarb remains. Halfway from the birdfeeder to the diseased cherry tree, I’ve staked a plastic / heron to frighten the squirrels. (This idea succeeded for exactly twenty minutes.)


The old dog and the young dog are just starting to get along. We could see their friendship flicker for a few seconds at a time over the past three months, but it is staying longer and longer.

I keep getting snared in the notion that all of this—yard, house, roof, dogs, ego—is just that: a tether to the make-believe world of living forever. Imagine a repository of humanity’s unfinished plans. Imagine its vastness.


Doesn’t every atom of every last thing at some point wind up submerged in current, and the current finds its own gravity-ripened route to one ocean or another, maybe one day one / big ocean over everywhere?

For now, I can believe in rivers; the hand you dipped in the Missouri; the Willamette feeding the lake you lived near; whatever river called to the water that carved the ravine into which you pushed the pregnant doe from that evening road.

f. daniel rzicznek’s books of poetry include Settlers (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press), Divination Machine (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press), and Neck of the World (Utah State University Press); and he is coeditor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice (Rose Metal Press). His poems can be found in forthcoming issues of American Literary Review, Barrow Street, Tahoma Literary Review, and Birmingham Poetry Review. He teaches writing at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.