Floyd Skloot – Five Poems

Floyd Skloot is an American writer. His 17 books include 7 collections of poetry, and his work has won three Pushcart Prizes, the PEN USA Literary Award, and been included in The Best American Essays, Best Spiritual Writing, Best American Science Writing, and the Penguin Book of the Sonnet as well as in such magazines as Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, Poetry Ireland, and others. He lives in Portland, Oregon.


Because gusting autumn winds have turned cold
and darkness comes so early, because my cap
is pulled low and the river’s rippling surface sounds
like footsteps near the burned-out dock pilings,
I misunderstand what I see moving through high
grass toward me. At this time of day I might expect
dogs, the old golden retriever stiff in her hind legs
or Jack Russell terrier frantic at the water’s edge.
But this is a shape without firm edges, a shifting
form of living night that my mind begins to turn
into a shadowy being, equally man and evening
mist. Because I have been reading so much
Dickens this month, the figure huddled into itself
now bears a tousled beard and glares at me
with eyes I had not seen. Though it makes no
sound the air above me whispers in a language
I do not know. Nights like these, Dickens walked
beside any river he could find, burning off energy,
savoring the lack of clarity around him, the acrid
breath, the absence of speech. In a world gone
murky he could cloak himself in memory, or step
free of all that family light and become the story
of his own inner life. Hidden current called him,
and the slow spin of driftwood, the distant thrum
of an unseen vessel’s engine working its way
upstream, a raptor’s cry. Exhaustion called him,
darkness he swallowed whole. I reach the place
where crumbled rock and rubble are dumped
to cap the toxic riverbank. The gouged land runs
sheer to the water, and I have come far enough
north for downtown light to seep through the dark.
Just offshore, a barge squats under its load
of heavy equipment, ready for morning.


My brother waits for me in a room long gone,
in a building restored to the rubble of its lot,
on a city block zoned now for lost memories.
He waits for me where time has ceased
to matter, where his breath, stilled so long,
flows as light across my face in the space
we once shared.  He is far away, close
to the vanishing point but coming clear,
waiting for me, blind eyes full of summer
dazzle, laughter like froth on a distant wave.


My wife stands among the drumstick
allium at her garden’s eastern border.
Camera poised in late afternoon light,
she waits as a painted lady circles,
lands on the deep scarlet flower,
then flies off when a honeybee climbs
beside it like a weary mountaineer.
No breeze, no clouds, and now I see
I am not even breathing as she holds
still, watching, whispering to the air.
The butterfly returns, comes to rest,
and slowly opens its brilliant wings.


Slowly the stillness comes upon his hand.
As he watches, color bleeds from the tip
of his brush, leaving him only a thick
black line.  He has dreamt it time and again
but this is no dream.  He knows he is sick
beyond all imagining now.  A land
of loss looms, and is the place he must walk
this tired line, which thins as it wavers
toward the vanishing point.  He cannot rest.
As his skin shrinks, as his muscles soften,
what he most wants to bring to life is death
as it looks to him here, pure fire often
blazing in the coldest place.  He savors
it as he waits for movement to begin.


He keeps going back to the days of fat
cigars and belly laughs, short hair slicked down
by Vitalis, a double shot of Vat
69 in the club car. All around
his sickbed now, nurses and daughters prowl
through a glowing timeless space they call Here.
But he is gone again. Awake at owl
hour, he and the long-dead boys are out deer
hunting, out fishing for blues in Sheepshead
Bay. Then pinochle in the summer haze
as their boat rocks at anchor. They turn red
from hidden sun, watching the sea’s soft grays
and blues fade even further at this day’s
end when there is nothing left to be said.

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