by Lance Larsen
In fifth grade I was sure I had a soul,
but Gracie Millsap, whom I clocked
with a snowball on St. Patrick’s
Day, said I didn’t. I’ve been wondering
for fifty years, looking for my broken
face in rain puddles, standing
on piers and stalled elevators,
cursing at the ragged moon, and why
shouldn’t I? The widow pushes
two foofy dogs in a stroller
and her neighbors let her.
The marathoner carries his mother’s
ashes in a baggie against his thigh
and we let him. A wasp lays
her eggs inside a swaying caterpillar
on my porch, so her children
will wake to a little snack, and I let her.
And angels let her, and wings
and flight and a short summer
conspire together to let her.
We’re all moved by something,
the sunflower rotating its glistening
head, the gopher snake parting
wet grass in search of mice.
Each of us carries a homing device,
a lit fuse perhaps, or a swallowed
compass pointing north.
Everyone wants to arrive, hoping
to kiss God on his radiant mouth
or be swept up into tantalizing
mist. Some read Ecclesiastes
to make the journey darker,
some watch cigarette smoke worm
its way toward the sublime.
Meanwhile, another homeless man
jerry-rigs a lean-to under the bridge
out of extension cords and stolen
pallets and listens to country songs
deep into the night. If solstice begins
with a coyote’s howl, sometimes
it ends with a ballad by Dolly Parton.
Tonight, teens will park above the city,
as they always do, and the mayor
will let them, and the night cop
texting the waitress will let them,
and Ursa Major and Ursa Minor
will sign release forms letting them.
The craggy moon is real estate
these teens hope to own, their first
kiss a down payment. Of course,
their pink mouths will take shortcuts,
but soon their souls will grow
bored, tired of the hot car,
trapped by desire. Maybe his soul
will cleverly hop out the window
and frog its way to the swamp.
Maybe hers will swoop, bat-like,
reading the dark like a book
about buggy heaven. Meanwhile
their bodies, their poor bodies,
will be left to learn braille and grief
and crickets chirring that we
were never meant to live here for long.
Finalist of the Poetry International Prize 2023