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The Poems of Dennis Nurkse

ae dennisEditor’s note:  Dennis Nurkse is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including “The Rules of Paradise” (2001), “The Fall” (2003), and “The Border Kingdom” (2008). Nurkse lives in New York and has been named poet laureate of Brooklyn. In free-verse, lyric poems, Nurkse explores subjects both intimate and political: children, families, love, and the effects of war.  He has received a Whiting Writers’ Award, the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry, grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Tanne Foundation Award. He has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing, and Rikers Island Correctional Facility.

Central Brooklyn

Behind the tenements lay wild gardens;

a swaddled fig tree, a Muscat arbor.

I propped my forty-foot ladder against a shim

and climbed and began searing the high porches

with a butane torch. I gouged away dead bees,

resin, gum, soot from forges, caulk. Once

the lovers opened their blind and watched

with pursed lips, hand in hand, her breasts

swaying slightly, his penis limp, their gaze

imperious and forgiving, and I missed a spot.

Then I painted white on white, when I finished

those streets were empty, no one lived there

except the rich, chalk-faced in their long divorce.

 

Making Shelves

In that lit window in Bushwick

halfway through the hardest winter

I cut plexiglass on a table saw,

coaxing the chalked taped pane

into the absence of the blade,

working to such fine tolerance

the kerf abolished the soft-lead line.

I felt your eyes play over me

but did not turn-–dead people

were not allowed in those huge factories.

I bargained: when the bell rang

I would drink with you on Throop

under the El, quick pint of Night Train

but you said no.  Blood jumped

from my little finger, power

snapped off, voices summoned me

by name, but I waved them back

and knelt to rule the next line.

 

Waking In Greenpoint in Late August

We wanted so much that there be a world

as we lay naked on our gray-striped mattress,

staring up at a trowel mark on the eggshell blue ceiling

and waiting, waiting for twilight, darkness, dawn,

marriage, the child, the hoarse names of the city—

let there be a universe in which these lovers can wash

at the pearling spigot, and lick each other dry.

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