Writers @ Work Fellowship Winner, poetry
War on Terror Memorial Highway
Hold it there in the front
of your consciousness: each mile
a life, every rpm. Do not forget
what’s happening right now. First stop
Alabaster. Bathroom and fast food.
Go to church or the devil will get you—
black iron silhouette, horns
and cloven feet, wielding
a scythe. There’s so much to remember. Let the kids
sleep in the back as our wheels tick off lives
in another country, subsumed from air, subsumed
as breath, coordinates. The kids loll under
clouds 20 stories tall, in what is possibly
the bluest sky ever composed. Everything
in the Bible is fact. This is America speak
English. Can we count each revolution,
tires stacking lives up as the miles
pile up? Each truck stop bears the emblem
of the old republic. This is America speak
English. Night falls outside Dothan, towards
Cottondale. This asphalt, laid down and lined out
60 years ago, should make us remember fear
and the fight against it. The god of fire
presides over poverty and empty factories.
The god of fire is a high altitude strategic bomber.
Village walls crumble
before sound is made,
flesh torn from the hand with no
noise to alert you—nothing to fear.
Hawks wheel their hunt, their caution.
Pride in peaches, a roadside stand with
peach ice-cream, peach fizzies.
The turn of the wheel works on me: I will be afraid.
I have a country. I reside. Hashmark on latitude
fears my country’s flag.
Confederate Memorial Park, afraid of the years,
afraid of the earth’s revolutions
against the past. Each turn of the wheel
a life I can’t know,
abstraction. At five years old, my son
didn’t know he was black—see, my skin
looks just like daddy’s—holding
his arm to mine. A cop will see
is the ability to instill fear.
A crowd of people
were terrorism. We see where
the bomb went off, but not the bomb, not
the Vulcan sending fire down, power
from on high, past clouds, past sight
or sound. It could happen anywhere,
at any moment. It can be hidden
in your shoe. Coming back from a day trip
in Canada, the border guard removed and examined
every suitcase and their contents, even the tire
in the wheel-well, just protocol, this fear. The signs flash
truck on fire, seek alternate route, but when we arrive
it’s only smoke, fields on fields of smoke, a whole town
of smoke stuck there
and no cars or people anywhere.
Pioneer Cemetery, Dallas, Texas
is the ability to instill fear.
overlayed like vellum.
John Bryan camping at the Trinity River
doesn’t know about Abraham Zapruder, it’s 1839
and he dreams a trading post, doesn’t know
he is founding Dallas, Texas, or that
they will name a pergola after him, and that
Abraham Zapruder will stand on his namesake pergola
to film the explosion
of the head of John F. Kennedy. In red, in
a kind of full arm script, someone says
THIS IS RACIST on the monument of Jefferson Davis.
A petition before President Obama
asks to designate Black Lives Matter
as a terrorist organization. Naming it so
would change the way protesters are
prosecuted, would outlaw protests
and shift their jurisdiction
to the CIA. In an open letter the president
says that to protest living conditions
and injustice cannot be considered
terrorism. In black, across the inscription
about defending the South’s rights, someone
has written We are in the union.
At the city council meeting
the community leader says that monuments
to Jefferson Davis are terrorism—they honor
a man who stood for ownership
of people, a statue honors him
and by proxy his ideals. The statue
is hurtful. Council says
it is merely historical, but the community leader
observes that it isn’t historical,
Jefferson Davis never came
to Dallas, and isn’t buried
in Pioneer Cemetery, and a statue of him is therefore
inexplicable. That the city
honors him is meant
to cause fear. City council votes
that a monument does not
cause fear, does not
oppress or subjugate.
Across the plaque describing valor
and bravery, someone has written
you fought for the wrong side.
Let the writing
overlap the metal words
until it’s not writing, every voice
speaking at once, let it blur—
stone men perched over their inscriptions
that change and change, become
a language we can’t read.
Over the words Jefferson Davis
a city maintenance worker
dusts away, flakes away
paint, and grains of sand
lifted off, until eventually
it’s only stone, mute, it takes
years but it erodes and it’s comforting to know
it won’t last, that nothing in Dallas
Texas will last.
Song on the End of the World (Laser Light Show, Stone Mountain, Georgia)
-just an old sweet song
Easy to believe in global warming. Easy
to believe it’s never been this hot
in my lifetime. Ice cream melts
when you step from the metal shade,
shrivels and fades in seconds.
Easy to see the rock
as sacred: great ancient
stone pushed from the earth
during the last meltdown 300 million
years ago, big gray dome, alien
in the pine landscape. Your cold soda
goes hot in your hand, even the can
burns to touch. Once darkness falls
they will project the face of Ray Charles
over the carved stone relief of Jefferson Davis.
We lay our blankets out
and wait for it. And the sun
refuses to set behind the stone, grows brighter
and whiter, boombox songs slur and drag
as batteries die to the heat. In the
finale, green animated Ray Charles lip-syncs Georgia
over the head of Jefferson Davis. Quiet now
as the birds withdraw,
and all the leaves withdraw, a total stillness,
waiting for relief, waiting for the end of day.
The sun descends at last like a giant, perfect egg,
white and cold and luminous. The sun slides into place
behind the stone like a nimbus. Ray Charles, blind
like a prophet, but is not
a prophet, is
green animated light mouthing along, a place
is a song, no peace I find,
no moonlight through pines, the first
meeting of the KKK was held at midnight
on the peak of Stone Mountain, temperature right now
98 at 9 p.m., green cartoon Ray Charles, Georgia, Georgia,
just an old sweet song over
the immense stone head in
the sacrificial rock, blocking out sun and glowing
and burning, haloed, here it comes, here it
comes. This is the only sign we need.
President Davis, fleeing southward after Lee’s surrender, with members of his cabinet spent the night of Apr. 16, 1865, in a pine grove nearby
Hold everything there
in the front of your mind
has been shot, Richmond
is burning, Texas fights
a battle in a war that’s over, and
the leader of the south
rides off to North Carolina.
Damp, remote, highway
more than a stone’s throw. Dark
and cool. Enclosure
a room unto itself, pines
like a huddle of men cold
but no fire. Straight up, the stone
white sky and the softly swaying
attenuated tips of pines. Distant
semi and its long, horrible grind
which stretches out forever, cooper’s
hawk and its cry cry cry
which stretches out forever, the moment
extends, becomes infinity, time
equidistant back and forward and this
gray stone a node on the ever reaching
stream, the node we access time by,
the gray stone cube holds all the moments
and in its polish holds the sky.
When Jefferson Davis
arrived in town with his
cabinet he was given a hero’s welcome,
no one who lived here
knew yet that the war had ended.
In the Museum of Personal History
There are two museums. In one
I walk among crucifixions, pietas, adoration
of the magi. The second museum
is identical: every object in the collection
photographed to a hard drive, shot
front and back, close-up
of signature, detail of any cracks
or visible brushstrokes. One museum is
two city blocks, four stories, gift shop and café; the other
fits in a black box
the size of a small suitcase, searchable
by a thousand different key words. In one museum
I call up
Javanese Burial Mask, 400 A.D., gold
thin as onion skin, fine cuts for eyelashes
and brows. Someone hammered it out
on the day of burial. Someone
laid it on a corpse; when it cracked
years later someone mended it.
Glows on my monitor a few seconds.
It made you more presentable to the gods
of the afterlife. I approve and click next.
Will you take our picture?
When the real museum is closed
and the windows are dark
our photographer comes in
to record what it looks like—
Will you take our picture?
Hold still. Mission San Juan, Mission
Concepción, Amy pulls her hair back
and people we don’t know dodge
the frame. Colonial-era Spanish
settlements. A bible from 1408.
A chalice, a crucifix.
This is how they pumped water
from the depths beneath the desert.
A wind comes up so Amy pulls her hair back—
one more says the guy holding our camera.
We ate downtown by the river, you were trying
to get virgin daiquiris but the waiter
misheard, or the bartender couldn’t abstain,
one sip and send it back. It was the first time
we had placed a syringe in the refrigerator
for a month, waiting
for the calendar to indicate
the day. You said the drug burned
its cold inside you. It seemed too easy—alcohol pads,
needle and plunger, the liquid’s startled dance
before compressing. In the real museum
I walk through the Byzantine period,
Jesus upon Jesus, Madonna and Child with Souls,
How many renderings of the crucifixion
will be enough? I had to raise $400,000
so the museum could get this one. Thank you, Oil & Gas Company,
your name will forever be on the wall
beside Jesus’ feet, where Mary Magdalene kneels
weeping. St. Veronica’s Veil, Journey to Nazareth,
Study for Annunciation.
Hold still. Amy wants one without her glasses,
she wore glasses for years but there is no record
although in some you can see light reflecting
from the invisible lenses in her hands.
This door, c. 1690. It lasted long enough
a relic, long enough
for the state to preserve it, and now us.
This is another museum, the one
of our lives, putting it all together
in photo albums
like we’re trying to prove something,
like an argument no one else is having.
Hold still, Jesus. No photographs
of Calvary, we have to invent
the weather that day, which was gold leaf, invent
his body—skeletal, nimbus—decide
how the nails went in. Grass emerald
and spiky. Hills receding to distance—will the blood
run or gush? The blood
is flaking, Hold still
and I push the needle in
below your navel, it seems too long, too heavy,
vial of cold hormones
to send eggs down, or indicate to eggs
they should attach now,
or divide. I try to locate the moment
of conception in this. Hold still, we say, indiscriminately,
out loud, hold still, just this once, please.
We Are Happy
We are driving to meet the mother
of our son, to meet our son, we are happy.
It takes years to do this. I-10 is a thread
between two cities and we move
along that thread, towards her,
towards him, through fields
and prairies, have dinner
and show photos
of our lives. We come back—
the thread seems precarious,
one end could easily let go.
We don’t touch her stomach
at this meeting: it is
her stomach, her baby.
He’s there with us,
folded up beneath water
and flesh. She keeps him warm,
knows his habits, forgot to bring
the sonogram. Ten hour round trip
and she decided yes, and we
decided yes. At 18, this will be the hardest thing
she’s ever had to do. And for as long as she lives.
I’ll call you with my first contractions.
It takes years
to do this, takes our bodies
failing us, all the known science
must fail us, it takes
birth control failing her. It takes years.
They are wonderful years.
It will be pain
and it will be joy. We will be sad
and we will be happy.
A Kentucky native, Craig Beaven earned an MFA in poetry from Virginia Commonwealth University and a PhD from the University of Houston. His work is out or forthcoming in Best New Poets 2016, Prairie Schooner, Pleiades, Third Coast, Carolina Quarterly, Cutbank, and elsewhere. He has been awarded a Glena Luschei prize from Prairie Schooner and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize multiple times. He is the recipient of a full fellowship to the Krakow Poetry Seminars in Poland, and fellowships from Inprint, Inc. Craig’s two manuscripts in circulation have been finalists for the National Poetry Series, the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, the Brittingham/Pollack Prizes, the FIELD Poetry Prize, the Philip Levine Poetry Prize, the Four Way Books Levis Prize, the Crab Orchard Series Award, and many others. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with his wife and kids.