Standoff: Poems

Standoff: Poems

by David Rivard


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555977450
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 08/02/2016
Pages: 88
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

David Rivard is the author of five previous collections, including Otherwise Elsewhere and Wise Poison, winner of the James Laughlin Award. He teaches at the University of New Hampshire and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt



By David Rivard

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2016 David Rivard
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-941-6



    I miss myself most
    these days with friends
    I feel a distance from
    when talking to;
    but for the moment
    I get to stand here
    clear-eyed & cold
    inside the murderous
    machinery of our birthright —
    I get to breathe the thin air
    all have had to breathe
    these past two hundred years,
    not the oxygen
    we dreamed of, that
    hothouse air. In the telenovella
    based on my life
    tall prairie grasses bent
    by an Alberta wind
    would sprawl snugly
    I've been told
    behind a woman vaulting
    in blue pajama bottoms.
    Does any of this have
    anything to do with me
    at all? Nightfall,
    nightfall without giggles
    or binary code —
    greenwood nightfall —
    that's what calls me now?


    Where am I going today
    if I'm going anywhere at all
    without my soul,
    that bird with its unreadable, unheard name
    having wandered off again,
    convinced that it is more than just a word —
    do we travel far from each other today? —
    me in my pre-owned Mazda
    with my radio full of wasps' nest news,
    my Peshawar & my Rupert Murdoch,
    all my guilty Murdochs —
    my destination
    like a homestead made of
    fallen maple leaves,
    the three leaves that form a tipi
    tipped together
    by a 5-year-old's hands,
    a dwelling place,
    where if I wanted to
    I could rest my human rights
    while my soul
    travels far from its base, lost for a while
    on its own highly privatized trip,
    the idea of living forever
    an idea that is not an eternity at all
    for my wanderer
    but a wish the bird has
    to fly brocaded by herself
    within the borders of a tapestry,
    far from some witch queen's cackle,
    far from that witch
    who has disguised herself as a sparhawk
    woven out of dark thread
    by a Flemish peasant's hands —
      how far is too far, you ask? —
    a little foolishness
    goes a long, long way, I'd say;
    a lot drops dead
    in its tracks.


    I fed my father what
    as it turned out the future
    would call his last meal
    (tho at the time neither
    he nor I was required to
    think of it that way exactly) —
    ground chourico & chopped
    green pepper open-faced
    on a burger bun, french fries,
    a cupcake with icing almost
    chocolate in flavor — alarming,
    a departure from his diet
    of low-sodium, zeroed-out
    trans fats & sugar-free
    vegetables with high fiber-
    scores, suffering as he had
    been for years from barbarian
    cholesterol & geriatric
    diabetes (the nurse shrugged
    simply & said "why not?" —
    meaning of course that
    we should get it, all of us,
    he was going to die,
    and soon). A few loose
    chitters of ground sausage
    fell onto his johnnie
    from the fork I lifted
    to his mouth — they left
    tiny, paprika-red dots
    of oil on the sheer cotton,
    prussic red, corpuscle red
    like the small scabs my sister
    and I had left on his face
    while helping him shave
    the day before. A week earlier
    I had visited him at home;
    the day an unusually warm
    day in a March unusually
    cold. He was telling me how
    he'd gone out into the yard
    to get some sun only to return
    minutes later to the house,
    the wind far too strong —
    he said he'd worried that
    if the wind took his hat
    from his head, he might
    die while chasing it.
    I made a joke — forced to,
    I thought — chasing a hat,
    I said, that might be
    a better death than most,
    I said maybe the death
    certificate would read "killed
    by the wind." He laughed
    all right. You know, he said,
    you've really got a lousy
    sense of humor. Better than
    nothing, I guess — (did he
    say that, or did I think
    it?). Later he said ... he'd said
    earlier ... then I said ... he
    said ... I said ... I said ...
    I said. ... Say now that
    this might be all that's left
    for consolation, this
    might be love at the end,
    the confidences exchanged —
    all these pratfalls, & this
    skin chapped by a blade,
    and your willing servant's
    shaky hands, then a short
    trip to be washed a last,
    finally blameless time
    (so the scriptures say)
    in the blood of the lamb:
    a smell like the smell of
    sweetgrass burning crosswise
    the length of a dry plain
    and sent by a wind whose
    swiftness has in it the bright
    voices of kindergarteners, children
    born of a hardship town.

    to Simone

    Wandering off under those astrological signs
    charted just for you, my quiet trekker — all
    those houses & planets so perfectly straight-faced
    but still baffling at birth — don't think badly
    of me when I'm dead & you've gone deep
    into the distance of love tangles, moneyed
    interests, & old-fashioned commutes — into life
    in other words — I did what I could for you, knowing
    it might not be enough — I see now that I can't
    save you from suffering, & that trying to hurts
    if I'm not kind. Tho I still want your life to be
    untroubled, & am afraid for you, a fear made
    out of my own fear of a future I can't control —
    the world so often a human heart that eats itself —
    places like New Orleans the Swat Valley Fukushima —
    the names of those remote destinations for film crews
    and symposium panels are places people die
    native to those regions & out to kill or defend
    life from itself — there is so much misery there
    that refuses to call itself misery & that sees itself
    instead as the unimpeachable power of a righteous day.
    And there are criminals & dunces elsewhere —
    hideous partyline whips, Saxon in outlook
    and proud of it — there are the bodysnatched
    and the inane candy-stripers & the greedy
    and the martini narcissists high on the rising year —
    but let's take the long view: these are not
    your true companions, & out of my reach your
    life will make itself in struggle & love perhaps
    dependent on the strength that will come
    if I only let go when you step out the door
    as hazel-eyed now as always & maybe more so
    this morning in slate-gray Gore-Tex.


    She was born for
    the pleasures of swerving
    and with a courage
    as impractical as it was
    beneath a harsh lightbulb
    in some Alberta hotel,
    not to play the fool
    or push a hangman's cart.
    She remembers
    how summers there
    had the excitable, slipshod languor
    of strip poker,
    but that winter snapped
    like a brown rat trapped & frantic
    in a wooden cage, a cage
    she'd last seen flying through dark smoke,
    her father having flipped it
    with one furious hand onto a bonfire.
    So it goes with
    the impossible —
    at 16 you think yourself
    a connoisseur
    of the inner-life for sure,
    tho you're allowed
    an occasional glimpse of the world
    and how it looks
    to others — 10,000 colors
    in the skin of an apple,
    and not one of them red or green —
    name one
    and the future might
    open for a moment in spite of all
    your evil speculations.
    She remembers her mother
    drowned the ticks in a mason jar
    after they'd been pulled
    from the garrison dogs,
    the jar half-full of machine oil.
    The first boy she kissed
    spoke of superhumans & died later
    of a brain hemorrhage.
    She remembers all of this later.
    Later —
    after much statecraft had taken place,
    and days that passed
    like the sound of swan's wings in the fog
    whenever she sat
    by herself at a foreign picnic table.


    A switchyard walk at twilight —

    waiting for the freight cars
    to rattle past & the wheels to melt a penny

    I've placed on the rail — an experiment in transformation

    widely available to homeschoolers —

    study of the thousand & more hurts that need
    to be endured, an unspooling infinity of such, in support
    of so many changes.

    You can't explain transience
    to a child otherwise,

    or the purpose of our momentums —

    i.e., friction:
    even in water

    a rubbing away occurs
    during the wanderings of a jellyfish,

    swirling & round, tendrilled

    for filtering, & highly capable
    in currents swept along long miles

    of Norse beachhead —
    on every beach

    the iodine tang of red seaweed,
    and cormorants

    spreading their wings to dry, putting the squeeze on,

    pompous, but getting lighter & more nubile.

    Once you've learnt in childhood
    that the world is built

    out of shiftings & abrasions
    you see how
    you'll have to make allowances —

    so I can't forget
    the smell of my grandfather's freshly perked
    Maxwell House just after

    he'd poured a jigger of rye
    into his mug,

    and how it kindled the morning air,


    but with consequences.


    Thinking of
    Dean in Austin,
    new heart in his chest —
    old heart beached on some larkspurred Viking coastline —
    in seclusion
    2-3 months so
    his immune system can get
    corrected & reset —
    if I write him maybe
    I should put the sheets of paper & envelope
    in an oven prior to mailing the letter,
    all the pathogens & microbes
    stunned, baked sterile at something just below
    Fahrenheit 451 —
    what else, rub sheets readable with Purell? —
    "play safe" says
    the graffiti tagged
    on the mailbox
    nearest my house, under
    a magic-markered & defanged mouse drawn
    with translucent condom pulled
    over his head all the way down to ankles,
    wide punchline smile
    on his face,
    put there by the minx-
    cast spell of some no-nonsense
    jeune fille
    Dean is no mouse tho:
    dear retrofit friend
    on a street
    where 2 mismatched shoes got left
    at the entrance
    of some dark quayside alley,
    just so a live man twice
    as alive
    with a dead man's
    can walk on now.


    Whatever else might make itself
    available, some nightlife
    takes place solely within the nutshell
    space of the mind —
    March 6th, it's a beer garden
    for worriers
    desperate for peace,
    where street sweeper & bounty hunter alike
    take a hike for company
    and brewed bat's piss —
    the Manchurians know nothing of Munich,
    neither do Manicheans,
    but plenty of them know waking at 3 a.m.
    with unleashed thoughts,
    a pack of hounds on your heels
    until you tire out the dogs,
    fall back asleep —
    what's it all for?
    Honestly, do I really think it makes
    me a better person
    to lie there dope-slapped by past mistakes
    or anxious for getting
    right with some future I imagine
    looming? —
    no, I gave up on that long ago —
    it's the quarrelsome
    blind man inside
    my feelings,
    gone out for a stroll, obsessively needy,
    taking it on the heel.


    Don't doubt it when the core samples prove
    how pleasing it would be to be woken by a baster's
    rain at dawn, cool grass wet with the benign.
    Your tormentors are yet to be born, or fell asleep
    a millennium ago. Your beauty is the beauty
    that does not dispense with struggles — it wears
    loafers the color of gun-metal, a face full of
    second thoughts, eyes you'd like to believe
    are supernatural. Agreed: aspiring to eyes of a color
    not found in nature is very lace-curtain Irish,
    and you do resemble one of Yeats's twilight boys,
    the walk cold from counting house to pub,
    the Easter Rising over — but the purpose of your days
    isn't simply to meet cute, it's to be changed.
    We inherit a marshalling yard full of dark freight,
    but the track switches work. How much of whomever
    you are after all is who you were when you
    were the stony theologian of Westport Harbor?
    Maybe in a quiet moment in the backyard today
    you'll look at a spray of tea roses leafing out
    and hear the rain inside them whenever a breeze
    blows. Don't let possibility go away in pain.


Excerpted from Standoff by David Rivard. Copyright © 2016 David Rivard. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Greenwood Nightfall 3

Less Than, More Than 4

Said 6

Birth Chart 9

Swerver 11

Rye Whiskey, Rye Whiskey 13

Play Safe 15

Take It on the Heel 17

Don't 18

Stowaways 19

Iron Rising Out of Iron 20

Brush Your Fingers through Your Hair, Why Don't You 21

Arriving from a Destination 23

Scooter 25

What's It to You? 27

Workrules 28

Blood Like Milk 30

Kid Charlemagne 31

Salaryman 32

I Can't Speak So 33

Standoff 37

Flickering 43

Chosen 45

Bookish 46

That Year 48

Late January Protest against the Betrayers 50

Common 51

News Cycle 52

Second Chances 53

Lucky Day Still 55

Escapism 56

This 58

What She Said 59

Call & Response 60

Take It on the Heel 62

To Rotate 63

Tomas 65

Excellence 66

Olive Trees 68

Michael Mazur 69

Freedom in the Midst 71

Ghosts on the Road 72

Darkhorse 74

The Moon in Time Lapse 76

Here We Go 77

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