Nothing is happening, nothing but the night,
lit only by a strand of clouds, gray as a steel sheet. Autumn.
The air has a stillness, almost alpine,
pierced by a dog, barking every so often, echoing. Fresh rain
in the fields, which are stubble and mud,
slanting off in the moonlight, flat to the river’s escarpment.
The voices of men in uniform,
hushed, a uniform purling of voices shapes up, trying to sound
careless but picking the words
with care not to say certain things but wanting a part
in the exchange, on this quiet night,
as if this above all was their duty, to talk softly at night
about what most of all
boys might miss. They smile about love, as if they knew
more than they tell as they rub
their hands by a barrel of fire, share a whisper of longings—
and the deceptions, the confessions, too,
leak into the night, until all the words have dispersed
in the predawn chill, like a mist,
a dew on these ragged fields, as the fictions fade out
and the silence surrounds them
from trench to trench, deep in this basin of night, where nothing
is happening, nothing yet.
What Munzer Said
I thought of Thomas Munzer
as I was making a list—
hamburger, diet cream soda,
bag of mulch, hardy
begonias, and I included
the phone number of an
insurance company, oh,
company, not co.
I added pills to the list,
the kind with a groove so you can
split them down the middle
like seasoned wood. Later that day,
a shower caught me
coming off the mountain. I heard
a clatter of rain on leaves, high up
in the canopy of hornbeam, hickory,
hackberry. The trees filled up
with rain, leaving me
wet to the skin. Munzer said—
all things have been turned
into property, even the birds of the air.
David Salner completed an MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, realized he didn’t want to teach, spent 25 years at trades like iron ore miner and furnace tender. The people he worked with have had a deep impact on his writing. His second book, Working Here, was published by Minnesota State University’s Rooster Hill Press in 2010. His poetry appears in recent issues of The Iowa Review, Poetry Daily, and Threepenny Review. He lives in Frederick, MD, with his wife, Barbara Greenway, a high school English teacher.
Q: Might you give us a few lines about Munzer?
A: I may run counter to today’s literary trends, but I find inspiration in the lives of revolutionary figures of the past, people like Thomas Munzer (1489-1525), who led a peasants’ rebellion and was later tortured and beheaded. History is full of insight and courage as well as gore. In his vision of nature and society, Munzer was centuries ahead of his time, and it’s humbling for me, like a walk in the rain, to view myself through his lens.
Q: The quiet presence of duty and of nature pervades “Nothing, Yet.” How does nature prepare us for the life that we must live?
A: The peacefulness of the night before does not prepare us very well for many human experiences, like trench warfare. But that’s life. I’m interested in the way we often remember such dramatic events through details that have little to do with the event itself. We remember seeing a rare and beautiful bird the day we first heard of the death of a friend. We remember watching the heart-wrenching scenes of the 2004 tsunami in a comfortable vacation condo. The way we remember things, hinge them together in moving and ironic ways, hints at our species’ almost limitless capacity for producing art.
Q: Hornbeam, hickory, hackberry–beyond the lovely alliteration, why are those the trees you notice as the rain begins?
A: Great question! They were actually trees I noticed when the rain had turned my hike into a rout at the bottom of the mountain. (Actually, the Catoctin Mountains would hardly be considered even a large hill in many parts of the U.S.) None of these alliterative trees are very tall, either, so they weren’t providing much shelter. Not a great day for me, although of interest in hindsight.