Editor’s note: In this week’s Poetry Corner, we feature poet Ron Slate’s first book of poems, “The Incentive of the Maggot,” (Houghton Mifflin 2005), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle poetry prize. His second book from Houghton, “The Great Wave,” was published this year. Slate maintains a literary book review, “On the Seawall,” at ronslate.com. He lives in Milton, Mass.
A horn blaring and the gut-smash of metal –
I heard the crash and swiveled
on my stool in the Arcadia.
Two drivers met in the street,
chastened and faultless.
Pieces of chrome and glass —
so much care taken not to step
in the spreading puddle of antifreeze.
As children we played in the parking lot
of the hospital, hearing the siren
long before an ambulance arrived.
A policeman said “you kids go home.”
As teens we worked as orderlies,
suddenly we could be trusted to look,
but I soon preferred to avert my eyes.
too costly to redesign.
The insipid righteousness of pedestrians.
Cited, a shaken man,
protesting his innocence —
he took the stool beside me, awaiting the tow,
beneath the bleached print of the Parthenon
and a giant gyro hovering above it
poised to punish or nourish Athens.
You’re my witness, he said,
you saw what happened.
But I didn’t see anything,
I heard the sound of what occurred,
and then I turned to look.
Lion of God
Some remember me from those days,
not by that name, given to me,
but by the breach between name and boy.
At ten I pronounced the unspeakable
name of God, my teacher rose from his chair,
dragged me by the scruff, then shook me
in his teeth. Speaking the word to make
a pleasing sound, I neglected
to consider the significance,
committing a grave offense.
Thus I was transformed by terror,
my classmates looking on,
and in the space between name and child
arose fear, respect, contempt,
wonder, loss of faith, awe of the eternal.
I took my seat and read on, wary now
of meaning but loving the lilt, relying now on rhythm
so that time may never be interrupted again.