Poetry from John Middlebrook

Struggling with Words

Struggling with words—

like learning to dance, or memorizing jazz,

or courtship, one’s last—

is worth it. Though with all these,

I stammer as I reach my void of vision—

     the blindness behind my eyes,
     my fence of expression.

The slipperiest words show best

how context gives them taste—

tart and sweet— and lodges them,

     mossy and furrowed

     like the pit of a peach.

So this struggle persists,

since when it succeeds

thoughts and feelings find their mates,

and I renew my belief:

clear words connect us

     like the air that we breathe.

And in spite of the murk,

we thrust our words forward

hoping to reveal and capture it all:

crafting words even for the absence of things, like

     shadows and sky and death and blank,

     and the something in the nothing

       of negative space.

Leaning over the waves, we tack our way.

We trim the sails of letters and speech,

plunging black waters, shaping the wind,

     searching beyond and beneath.

 Walking the Figure Eight

Across an autumn landscape we walked

with asymmetric interests in one another.

We talked about art, as we couldn’t us.

We looped through this ruse, and I made my case

for paintings that draw me in and out.

You countered with sculpture because it is solid,

inserting a certainty in a world often soft.

And though I was prone to be strong and stable,

by you, I trembled like a branch in a storm.

But you were as sure as you were subtle,

like the leaves that floated past your body,

elusive as the plans made at dances.

Still I waltzed through this canvas,

taking my chance, while you—

a marble goddess—sat it out.




A Prophesy of Black Holes


If we were creatures

at the bottom of dark oceans—

close descendants of our planet’s first life—

perhaps we would share a sacred belief:

     One that pictures our final deliverance

     from the lowly rocks of birth and death

     to a place above the cloud-dropped mirrors

     breaking upon our roof—

     far beyond the bands of light

     streaming overhead.

     And in this space, where we’ll ascend,

     there’s an infinite hole—

     the black of starless nights,

     where we will live, forever unchanged,

     and illumination will disappear,

     eclipsing the need for sight.

And we’d be certain of this belief

since it was told by ancient blind prophets

who came to our murk from the waters above,

warning that vision goads temptation

and is a curse that should be shunned.