Word Poetry

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Sample Poems by Matthew J. Spireng


The Horse

I cannot leave the image of the horse in the water,
the horse thrown overboard in the middle of the ocean
on a moonlit night, the horse following

the slow-moving ship, eyes fixed
on that only other object on the water. It did not
ask to come. It did not willingly leave

the field where it ran, its mane rising up in waves
with each step. It did not like the stinging
in its eyes. The taste of salt no longer

brought pleasure. Its nostrils flared and its body
grew heavier. Around it, long after the ship disappeared,
circles were reaching in every direction, one outside the other.


What Focus Is

... as beauty
makes background of all around it.
- Les Murray, "The Emerald Dove"
This a bald eagle, the first seen
so all else-the smooth curve
of the road ahead, the distant view across

fields and hedgerows into a green valley-
is lost, guessed at now, though the eagle close
and magnificent flying up from the shoulder

only yards from the car is as clear in memory
as if a photo had been snapped that instant,
even the eyes, head turned toward the car, sharp.

Only the bird, and background, beauty and background,
as the bird soaring might find beauty itself: one hare
seen first from afar, then, as if tethered together,

the magnificent bird swoops down out of the background,
focused only on the beauty it sees-the hare in a field
filled with clover it does not see-to pluck it up from the ground.


Ivan Albright, Magic Realist

(The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997)

When, in a day, a square inch
was done, that tiny part painted
of the whole, canvas planned
but unfinished, did he contemplate
the flaws his subjects showed,
warts and rough flesh, the decay,
or the smoothness their dreams
would demand? And old, capturing
himself weak-eyed and wrinkled,
did he think it enough, no need
to bring ugliness to bear, childlike
in the hospital's care, a small part
of his face (See, mostly the eyes!)
etched in copper for the end?


Recognition

Like the second fattest man in the world
meeting the fattest.
- Randall Jarrell
It is truth, the sweetness
in the throat as, devoured, it
goes down slow. No jokes,
round O of laughter on the lips,
tongue dancing in its hole. I
understand, you see: brothers
of the flesh. We are not so
different, you and I.
Remember, before we met
I always dreamed I was you.


Perception

What is out there is murder.
It's going on all the time.
- Pattiann Rogers

I've noticed on the floor of the Indian Museum
where the poet speaks of her craft from a low,
rug-covered platform in front of a full-size display

of a dugout canoe a scatter of small black insects
motionless on the floor, their exact shapes
indeterminate so I am not certain what they are,

though they seem from my front-row seat to be dead ants-
an infestation of carpenter ants destroyed, perhaps purposely,
perhaps by a sudden coldness at night as I've seen in the woods,

the building unheated, though it seems
this day in mid-September in rural New Jersey
it could not have gotten cold enough for that.

I am distracted by the motionless ants,
wonder if the poet has noticed the ants,
wonder if the poet will crunch them underfoot

when she steps down in her black flat-heeled shoes
from the black rug covering the six-inch high platform
where she stands. I am perplexed, the ants in death

looking not quite like ants, and though I listen
and watch the poet’s face as she speaks, my eyes return
again and again to the floor until suddenly I see

little tatters of black rug where before had been a scatter of ants.