Two Poems // Dan Alter

Bitter, sweet

And the lamentation, the fatty meat in mouth glowing to a coal, and how the city
is torn open like the belly of a rag doll, how it spills its guts into the gutter, how it shouts
            in gutturals,
how the city howls at the bone of moon picked clean, how it sits up on its stripped-bare
and wails, how it wills you to come back when you are fat with the desert moon
stripped of its cupcake paper and devoured to crumbs, now you are full and the city
was by Marmots or Normans overrun, serially empired, synagogues burned and
            Tancred’s prisoners done in the mosque,
the city skinny in its underwear, shivering on history’s floor waiting for the siege to lift,
            gun thunder to go away.

Oh my chosen, now you have seen the city bereft and torn by wars from before we were
you have followed down the drain your grandmother’s bathwater, your grandfather’s
            after-war silence, which she tried to wash off,
and we have eaten the ash breakfast and the battery acid snack, have gone up on jets and
as an attachment to the rain. Which is why I tell you now
of the ailing city, of its tuberculitic cough, its tunnels of bronchitis, its rotted, hollowed-
            out bales of hay, to be eaten by no horses,
of the city which crouches in the kitchen, trying to dive into the tiles.

So let us climb onto a benchseat, little to no upholstery, and be taxied back to the arid
and cry, for the echoes of a line of Isaiahs chanting into the wind, for the bitter taste
of roasted pine needles, our unbuttered meal, unrefined alarm-berries, the fallen
flakes of moon that poured out of the breakfast box, that spun in your bowl calling for
            milk, sweet milk
like an inconsolable unanswered baby in a gigantic room, a cavernous, inconsolable room
            like a city broken and left in pieces on its hill and held
in memory like cabin in the snow-globe, like mastodon tooth in ice, like pottery shard
rubble covered, a piece of someone’s daily water container,
waiting in the dry, slow surrender of soil.

Ode to I said yes

Out of nothing’s hollow trunk come the babies, on their spongy knees, peering
out of God’s back pocket, folded around themselves, full of the new air, sponging up
         color coming in floods,
skin open wide under cleanest white fabric, they come:
recombined are the scattered particles, now emerged and perched on branches, fluttering.
Come babies in, from folds on folds of night, of emptywhere behind night, the
         undulating basin of the universe,
just when I thought the door was held closed – latch is sprung, bolt thrown,
in come babies, because all they need is cracks.

Babies in the snow, in their disposable diapers, babies racing shoreward in kayaks, back
         from the islands, not content to be sequestered in huts,
babies in summer array, in sun-hats, slung from fathers’ shoulders with bravado, knot
         craft, buckles and straps.
Babies in the oval office, gumming up the war room, spitting up onto strategic maps and
         Windsor knots:
silk blouses shimmer and spread glad as flags in the morning to receive liquids from
         within the universe’s new flowers.
“Mr. President, you have breakfast on your blazer.” “Thank you, Mr. Secretary, babies
         will make themselves at home.”

Babies in catamarans, familiar with buoyancy, flotillas of babies carried on the impartial
Yesterday’s babies, tomorrow’s world leaders, toddling ferociously around the sandbox,
         laughing at gravity, unenchanted with our legacy of rules.
Hallelujah, out of the parted sea come the babies, shaking their tambourines, glittering in
         their worldstruck eyes,
flying on cotton wings of swaddling cloth, gathering size like the avalanche snowball,
         spilling out onto desert ground like a spring squall,
the dry spell broken by the babies, their eyes ready to pull mountains, their eyes giant as
         tractor tires,
it’s the end of winter now the season is wail, is suckle and sleep, the season is carried
         tender as membrane cradled trembling in your stunned, close arms.

Dan Alter has poems recently published or forthcoming in Field, Zyzzyva, the Cafe Review, Floating Bridge, Fourteen Hills, Newfound, Paper Nautilis, Squaw Valley Review, and Sou'wester, among others. He lives with his wife and daughter in Berkeley and makes his living as an electrician.