Paul Alexander has published poems in numerous journals and magazines, among them Poetry (Chicago), Southern Poetry Review, The Sewanee Review, Poetry Now, Mississippi Review, Bits, Poem, The Louisville Review, Tar River Poetry, Spoon River Quarterly, The Black Warrior Review, American Journal of Poetry, Connecticut River Review, Deep South, Cold Creek Review, West Texas Literary Review, Allegro, Canada Quarterly, Chelsea Station, The Gay and Lesbian Review, Bennington Review, and The James Dickey Review.
On the shore there are several
of them, boys stripping off
their clothes and, one by one,
diving into the deep ravine.
Their bodies are tanned
hard brown from the long summer
of swimming. Now and then, one
yells something indiscernible
when he springs over the edge,
arms waving as he does down.
Otherwise, they shout cheerful
greetings to one another.
They brag how they’ve known
the intimate comings of strangers.
They’re all prisoners in
their world of comings and goings.
They know it, not exactly, but
show it with each lusty plunge.
When the last dives, they swim
about this well of green water.
Today, the sun glares down on
the cliffs and a slight breeze
filters in from some distant ocean.
To the boys the water is warm.
It is one simple body gripping
them, embracing each part.
Then on cue they start under,
down into their darker realm.
Stroke after stroke, they work
themselves deeper, deeper, as if
they too are one separate body
moving into the wet soul of
another. Heads turning, they look
about to see one another but
the water stings their eyes. Soon
they can hardly bear their huge
lungs expanding in their chests.
They’re lightheaded with anticipation
— blood pulled from their brains —
but lunge ahead deliberately
until they reach the quiet secret
place they long for. They know
everyone, everyone has been here
before, will come again. But
still they grope at something out
there smooth and colorless,
the flesh they desperately clutch
that filters through their fingers.
— Poetry (Chicago)
JOHN CLARE GOING HOME
It is the time of evening when the sky, a swirl
of violent colors, descends onto a crust of trees.
When he is Clare, the trees are objects
for him to study, like the field rat or badger,
like the perfect stones beneath his feet.
But when he is that other poet, the trees float up
like ghosts of women he once knew,
whores in London or the asylum’s nurses he left
only yesterday. Byron, that “other” poet —
the one whose face is a wash of startling beauty,
delicate features setting off eyes distantly blue —
the one whom women adore despite his club foot,
his penchant for drinking from a skull for a cup.
When Clare becomes him, he can drift back
to that night when he scaled the nunnery wall,
the terrified bulky figures fixing cold and
unexpected stares on their drunk intruder.
Or to that Sunday morning when he helped pull
Shelley and then Williams from the Gulf of Spezzia
— the boat named Ariel nowhere in sight — so that
the blue bodies could be stripped, lifted up
onto a pyre, and burned — the ferocity of the water
forgotten by the funeral party as they stood
overcome by the colors of the sky, the finality
of the fire. He was the one who stuck his hand
down into the flames to pull the poet’s heart free.
Today as he walks under a canopy of frozen branches
— the maples, cypresses, a forest of icicles —
he cannot tell which self he is. He only knows
that up this road a home awaits, that eventually
the sky will birth stars and, stopping to study
the constellations, he will find the one which
forms his face, his body, his or his other image,
and speak to it as if he were speaking to himself.
— The Sewanee Review
There were old warnings: An earthquake,
years of tremors, but nothing
that predicted the wrath of the gods
until the unexpected — the eruption
of the mountain on the far side of the bay,
then a column of smoke rising up
into the sky like an umbrella pine.
Ash fell as pebbles rained down.
Suddenly, the streets were jammed
— screams filling the thickening air —
as black clouds of pumice blocked out
the midday sun. In the coming hours,
it was just when the day appeared to be
returning to normal that the searing
molten flow of gas descended on the city
like a deadly fog. Amid the chaos,
amid the carnage of so many falling
dead where they stood, in a back room
in the House of Cryptoporticus, two
young men, not much older than boys,
huddled together, holding each other
as they had so many times before, usually
at night when they slipped into bed
before their mouths met in a kiss.
Now, their minds fading into whiteness,
they did not consider history or archeology
or the way a world could so misunderstand
one simple gesture. They only knew
they were in each other’s arms,
one resting his head on the other’s chest.
— The Bennington Review
DRIVING DOWN U.S. HIGHWAY 78 AT TWILIGHT
This stretch of highway was once a two-lane road.
Farmers on tractors inched along in the heat of a late afternoon,
hoping later that night their sons,
drunk on beer and smelling still the perfume of dropped-off dates,
would not race down the road.
On Friday and Saturday nights they always did.
Some nights, one of them would round a bend in sticky fog,
or in the clean light of a low moon,
and crash into another car. At times, their bodies
had to be cut from the tangle with a torch.
Now the road has been replaced by a four-lane highway,
and though farmers still creep along on tractors, at night their sons,
sunk deep into the bucket seats of late model coupes,
must search out other roads that are curving and narrow
to take their cars down at sudden speeds.
— The James Dickey Review