“Paradise,” poems by Andy Stallings

“people die / sometimes from not keeping / quiet”

“Paradise,” poems by Andy Stallings

Paradise

Mud cuts the burn. And
where the quiet lake has left
permanent ripples in shale,
direct your sensation to the
granule and weep. I walked
her the long way home, with
hopes to meet the elderly
sisters who smelled of
fermented flowers, and
passed out vials of tincture
on Halloween. Her departure
was unexpected, also,
unspecified. We had a banker
in common, felt kinship
beside the private pool.
At the edge of perception,
I measured movement, and
put memory to a test of
selection bias. Wherever the
birds weren’t, settled up my
debts. When you say interest,
what do you really mean.

Paradise

The small birds we call
sparrows move slowly across
the plot of sandy ground
where a house used to be,
almost in formation, though
given to impulsive flights out
to the side, or ahead, or
upward. For an annotation, I
wrote the whole poem down.
The anchor swayed, or so it
seemed. Does one really think
of others, and here I don’t
describe anyone’s altruism.
There is childhood, one of
language’s many plumb
topicals. And what brings you
here to my face today, what
pre-condition concludes, or
extends, or inaugurates, with
my glance. Exhaustion in the
profile. Response is infinite.

Paradise

Had anyone from the 1980s
seen her standing by that
chair waiting for the table to
be cleared of its beignets and
sugar, they’d have turned her
photograph into an album
cover. But who could gather
every cigarette butt flicked
away on even one block of
one city. By extension,
biography. Every morning he
lifts the wire basket from the
tub of hot oil just as the grate
on the storefront opens, just
as someone sweeps the
sidewalk up, just as dawn
“puts on its rosebush” and a
man lets his horses run in the
gentle surf. But who doesn’t
change lives. Whirl of noise,
suave screaming void.
Nothing sweet’s still coming.

Paradise

You learn to throw the punch
by taking it. My size of your
poise. I tell her that, yes,
there are times when one must
be quiet, that people die
sometimes from not keeping
quiet, and I’m not proud, but
she’s quiet then, and sleeps.
Is there any sentence that
doesn’t in context flourish, as
any person passing makes the
mirror a frame. Minute after
minute of heat we share.
Bothered grass, wild grain.
There was so much that
filtered through the years,
the tone and shape of a story,
the voice of the person telling
the story, the way the road
curved as he grew ill along it,
the villa where the hill
opened into the valley, the
valley stretching to the sea
under all that sunlight, into
all those centuries, and she
sat on an ancient low stone
wall eating an ice cream bar,
Magnum Double Caramel,
and smiled.

Paradise

But how often does the
janitor answer the joke.
Fingers pressed to the
weakest points, she split
the board to crack the
conversation. Lovely the
granite stair, though I won’t
speak for you. But in
photographs, he’s stunned.
Three stripes define the
forehead, a chest full of
spiders or bugs, the scratched
sky, suicide of a friend.
Swarming insects distill the
grave’s impermanence into
an image. A chewy mouth. I
don’t know what the sticky
substance is.

Paradise

The man called himself “Old
Blue Eyes,” and ran a local
taxi service by that name, but
in the General Store he
operated, no other store for
miles around, the milk was
often sour, and he said no
child should enter the store
and leave without a gift,
which he held to, giving my
daughter a small jewel, a
clicking pen, and some paper,
and it was in this manner that
he meant to build a loyal
customer base that would
mature sometime after he’d
died, and the General Store
closed. Singular, derived of
multiple sources. Then in
closer proximity to absence.
A soft horse. Bitter farmer.
What isn’t terrifying about
childhood.

Paradise

Once extricated, we didn’t
know how to say stop. The
film ran on an infinite loop,
and showed a high aerial
view of a vehicle circling an
abandoned oval racing track
in the California desert, but
at times the perspective
flipped to the vehicle’s
passenger side, the camera
pointed directly at passing
vertigo. It ran just eight
minutes, but I felt discrete
and eternal. Nothing but
passing sentences, they might
come from anywhere. I’m
lifted into arrival, brought
lunch to rot on the sidewalk,
made myself a devastating
drink. All this laughter,
a sensation like being
swallowed. On the other
hand, I’m falling asleep
as I write this.

Paradise

As for sexual pleasure, it lies
entirely in the other’s
pleasure, arched and beyond
control, which surprised me,
as when a friend’s book was
published and I wasn’t
jealous at all. A lingering
sense of wild holes in the field
next door. And the ocean
a pair of blue directions, a
watery blue lineation. From
Antonioni’s films, I recall
only Monica Vitti’s face as
she stares out over volcanic
rocks, then vanishes. I’m
imagining only exteriors,
while interiors throttle the
visible. Another time, they’d
knocked on the palazzo’s wall
at night and someone had let
down a key. Cleft or cleaved.
Skin transmits a feeling of
perforation.

Andy Stallings lives and works at Deerfield Academy in Western Massachusetts. His first book of poems, To the Heart of the World, came out with Rescue Press in 2014. His second, Paradise, will also come out with Rescue Press, in spring 2018. With Melissa Dickey, he is a parent to four young children, and he coaches boys’ cross country.

More Like This

A Perfectly Normal Interview with Carmen Maria Machado Where Everything Is Fine

The author discusses her very personal connection to a new edition of the 19th-century vampire novel "Carmilla"

Apr 18 - Theodore McCombs

7 Books Written as Emails, Reviews, and Letters

Mary Adkins, author of “When You Read This,” recommends epistolary works of fiction with subtextual storytelling

Feb 7 - Mary Adkins

Postmodern Literature Is the Best Expression of What It’s Like to Be Autistic

The scattered plots and timelines of books like “Infinite Jest” make sense with the way I experience the world

Aug 28 - Alex Sobel