Three Poems, by J. B. Mulligan.


fabric of life

The coffin, the incense, the stately procession
of notes up the motionless air to the ceiling:
the church of my childhood, the funeral of
my father's best friend.
Joseph stands
with an awl, a vise, and an icon's wooden
mysterious hint of a smile, on a ledge
in a niche, behind rows of red bright candles.

Familiar faces melted like wax
afterwards, outside, but still
a jig, a drink and a joke in the eyes.

Waves unfurl on the Jersey shore,
the summer of my childhood. Part
of a wave from the previous wave explodes,
disperses and swirls into the next,
swelling and rising.
The clock of the sun:
its hands have fallen into the sea.
No matter. Everything continues.
Stops and goes on. Echoes flutter
like seagulls down from the darkened vault.
The sand is nothing but the bones
and shells of the sweet, innocuous dead.


Candle in the distant window.
Nested tree in the high wind.
Hive swollen with liquor and noise.

You hold the root of me, I'm a tentacle
clumsily groping under and over stones,
returning, going out.

The dock defines the boat
more than the galloping herd of the sea.

There is a silence in the night
when the painted wagons of the carnival
have passed, and the music and rattle have faded,
the perfect pause the heart makes
between each urgent, dictatorial beat.

I know where I am.

All of us here rush in and out
of the pulsing walls, carrying, carrying.
Here we put the load and the bounty down
and look at each other and laugh.
Here we know what our names mean.
That's why, in another's empty house,
you can never hear silence,
just what's left of their names
after the echoes have faded.

part of a poem


This poem started when we met:
the heel of your shoe broke,
I failed to fix it.

How many shoes
have we gone through since?

Anything that passes
is a calendar of sorts.
We are not a calendar.


You'll always be
a year ahead
in our common time.

Now that you're fifty
and I'm not —
I'm setting myself
up for the fall.

That's a dance we know,
have worn out shoes dancing,
laughing with the song.


Snow is on the foothills.
Slabs of rocks are glazed,
hovering over the highway.

I'm on the bus,
you're driving home,
or there, correcting the dog.

Tonight you'll pick me up,
and we'll drive to our rest
and the start of tomorrow.


We dance around the space
and time between us:
atomic, elemental waltz.

During each day, that space
grows broader or denser, like love.
It's not a gap. It is water
cupped in the soft hands of life.

A rope, woven of hours and years,
stretches over the hills like cable.
Two children, two cups, and a very long string.


The poem, the day, the week will end.
Beads on a string. Kisses
in amber like eyes in the night.

In a vault without walls,
our memories rise, accumulate.
The shiny ones on top
are borne up by the riches underneath.

Time is defined by our love.
Time is a bird, and we are wings:
without us, it's a feathered, falling rock.

Bio: Married, with three grown children, poems and stories in dozens of magazines, including recently, Niederngasse, Carnelian, Steel Point Quarterly, White Pelican Review, Bayou and Mandrake Poetry Review, as well as two chapbooks: The Stations of the Cross and This Way to the Egress (Samisdat Press).


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