Stuart Dybek



A man steps out of sunlight,
sunlight that streams like grace,

still gaping at blue sky
staked across the emptiness of space,

into a history where shadows
assume a human face.

A man slips into silence
that began as a cry,

still trailing music
although reduced to the sigh

of an accordion
as it folds into its case.


In the barn demoted to garage,
the ax in a cherry stump can’ t be budged.

Daylight perforates siding despite
the battered armor of license plates —

corroded colors, same state: decay,
their dates the only history

of whoever tilled the soil
and left, as a welcome, the skull

of a possum nailed to the door, and the trail
of lime to the torn sack

in a corner where cobwebs festoon a scythe.
Rusted sharp, it sings

when he grips its splintery handle, swings,
and crowns topple from Queen Anne’ s lace.

The Supplicant

prays for birds
before an ancient icon —
a stray cat.
The inbred need
to pray
is what makes God
and not, she says,
the other way
beyond that
it’ s all mystery,
so don’ t question
why Man creates gods
that demand
condemning mortals
to spend their lives
trying to praise
godhead into mercy.
Better instead
to ask the frog
to bless the fly,
and, once the cheese
is in the trap,
to beg forgiveness
from the rat.

Their Story

They were nearing the end of their story.
The fire was dying, like the fire in the story.
Each page turned was torn and fed
to flames, until word by word the book
burned down to an unmade bed of ash.
Wet kindling from an orchard of wooden spoons,
snow stewing, same old wind on the Gramophone,
same old wounds. Turn up the blue dial
under the kettle until darkness boils
with fables, and mirrors defrost to the quick
before fogging with steam, and dreams
rattle their armor of stovepipes and ladles.