Ukiah, CA

Ryan Paradiso

father, I’m in Ukiah and I can smell the sawmill
the oaks reach over the road with corpse boughs
draped in lichen like the way you wore your beard
there are no ninety degree angles like you taught me
Don is dead and you’ve been gone for years
but I can smell the sawdust of your youth
some of you is still alive

father, I’m in Ukiah
and I can hear the hand-saw snoring
and the circular-saw whining
but the forest bouquets for me
                                                                       let it swallow you
I have taken so much

space break

Macon, GA

let’s say you do go north
that small barn half buried in a hill
there naked do you dance
amidst kicked up haydust
lit in wisps by sunlight come
between gaps in the slats of barnwood
there silent do you cook sorghum
because there is no one worth kissing
there do you visit with the porchsitter
do you walk twelve miles down the road
simply because he is there
his teeth stained yellow, mustache stained rust
eyes lolling in their caves, fingernails splitting, tongue
capering as it searches story troves
there humming do you drive old roads
eyes closed with a hunger for wild onion
following the fenceline’s ebb and pull
and eddies of cedar musk released by your wake
where the canebrake gilding the creeks you float
grows brittle and thin and is felled by aching winter winds
before you pull the fence down
before snowfall does it for you
before footfalls like minor keys
before you boil water to bathe
before your bare skin pressed against warm brick
before the drawer stuck by June heat
will shrink and loose and you will pull it free
but the soupbone it contains is ruined
before there is moonshine for those who seek it
before you oil the floors, cuttingboards, cast irons
steel traps, the shotgun, saddles, any leather
pitchforks, doorhinges, your skin, your scalp
don’t you feel your hair wrap your face
and flick behind you like a chimneyfire?
don’t you realize I can feel your skull pulsing
with these dreams of the low country?
that I don’t need to ask
because I can see it blackly in your eyes
I can see it tremble, gleaming

I can see back to last summer
when at twilight you waded the oxbow
water roiled softly away from your thighs
as if polar to their purity
your dress gathered in one hand
the other palm downward
as if summoning sunlight from the water
you glowed, fishbelly fair
your reflection warped in that mirrorpond
the crescents of your cheeks
fell below your dress’ hem
like hanging moons, like squash
almost hidden by their runner leaves
you had no reason to test that far
but no one was watching you
and the entire world was still

rote, the body remembers, inveterate
true grief, red bangs
rest over broken spectacles
sweep over your sorrow eye
while the other winks
I remember the difference between
sorghum and molasses
serenity and repression
why and how
and Missouri backroads
chain smoking
you want to shine
and do
you want to weld a still but
your friend hung himself, drunk
Georgia, I’m afraid
Georgia, I want to go away
to where you want to go, home, empty
roads you still know
past that overgrown field
where a farmer ate the pesticides
that were keeping his crops alive
past the corner where in 2006
you broke Grace’s cheekbone
the first thing you did to me
was put a scar on my arm
with an American Spirit
but these days everything is pressed into images
bones, old roads, older brothers
ancient stories, those dead, every word
is about death but what is the image of death?
you, driving
half inch ply and copper sheeting
hanging over the truck bed
crumbs between your thighs
humming supplely
as the road unspools roughly
your palm a beacon
shading your eyes
you don’t know how much I need you
nobody understands that

Ryan Paradiso lives in Fort Davis, TX.