A Certainty and Not the Poem I Meant to Write

by Sam Rasnake

                  If there is only one world, it is this one

                                 — Larry Levis, “Decrescendo”



Rain, sounding like talk, like the dulled necessary words

of couches, of fireplaces and coffee tables, will be snow

by afternoon, and I will have forgotten the six crows,

the one mockingbird over the gnarled ridge.


I used to say I wouldn't bother with hidden things,

but now I need them too much — like a trumpet craves

the ballad.  I ache for railroad underpasses,

lit houses, closed windows, shelves of books.


Dawn, wet and cold, shakes through the spruce on the hill.

The apple gives no note, acts hard of hearing, not willing

to show any emotion.  I know this wind and have felt

the air for it, have waited beside summer roads, wanting


only its freedom.  I promised myself I would give it back,

but never did, swallowing instead.  I used to walk on whispers

through town, unwilling to let anyone know my secrets.

An empty lot, the one television station.  The upstairs


bowling alley that rumbled over a bakery counter —

fluorescent pastries behind glass.  The bus terminal,

abandoned, merciless, with its wall of magazines and

delicious, forbidden photographs.  I could dream of cars


then, the shaking of my bed —  a radio under my pillow — 

horse-print curtain, brown and wild in the opened window,

giving way to such dark immovable skies over my own

desperate vocabularies of the smallest detail.


I knew nothing then.  I asked no questions then,

but believed my life would always be as it was —

burning, ready at any moment, for something. 

Now those streets are lost to me.


The legs I thought would swell forever,

would burn always, are dry, are tired, finished,

though I don't remember when this happened.

The streets I walk are only streets, nothing more.

They lead in circles, are under construction,

their cul-de-sacs invite no one.

Rain, according to local weather, boasts of flood,

but brings nothing.  My streams are lost among thickets


of maple, oak, among fence posts, wire & rocks

& ditches where two horses, heads to the ground,

their powerful jaws undisturbed

in the world of grasses, prove their own design.


The streams push against my banks,

deliberate in what is given.  Water rises

past my calves, my thighs, stomach, nipples, chin.

I flare both nostrils,


taking in this one last thing

my life brings.  And then my eyes —

What I see there in the slow darkness is

exactly what I've wanted.

            — originally published in Naugatuck River Review, and later

                  included in The Southern Poetry Anthology