Leap to Able
Dorrance, Kansas, June 1938
“This dry weather could not last forever,”
Kent said to his dashboard. There a devil
made of chalk and sand whipped up and taunted
him while legions of them stormed his acres.
What few sprouts had struggled up to sunlight
they had stripped and, wailing, beat to pieces.
They could beat this whole damned world to pieces,
him included. Who’d care now, if ever?
Kent peered through the endless empty sunlight.
This field once had such a yield, the Devil
made it grow, they said. Eighty rich acres.
What I’ve done, enjoy, the devil taunted.
What his wife said daily made this taunting,
this field and their marriage of a piece.
Him she’d married, not his eighty acres.
They were all she spoke of, though, and never
Kent. Nor sons he could not have. The devil
made a graceful bow, crowned by the sunlight.
Makes the bank seem like a ray of sunlight,
they would say about his wife, not taunting,
this their way to beat back their own devils.
What are friends when banks see only pieces,
him and them indebted, bank land, never
Kent’s, however hard he worked these acres?
Kent decided. He would leave his acres.
What his wife would do, let her tell the sunlight.
They would understand, and if he ever
made it somewhere else, the news would taunt
this town till they also left their pieces.
Him, he’d welcome them and all their devils.
Him, though? No. He swept away the devil.
Making him start, something crashed on his acres.
What it was he could not tell, but pieces
Kent saw glinting silver in the sunlight.
They’re no plane’s. Cries rose from it, taunting,
“This, a babe, could keep you here forever.”
This new devil watched him, pale as sunlight.
Kent drove off. His acres, what they taunted,
made no peace with him nor would they ever.
Mother of Apples
Thor stumbles toward her through the orchard, broken
and bleeding from a hundred blows. He pulls
his bearskin off. His scars sing of the hunt
that saw him seize the ancient beast and rip
its great pelt free—as it still breathed. He lays
it on the blossom mulch, quiet as down,
his fury spent. She sets her casket down
beside it, smoothes his skin and feels the broken
bones scrape beneath the meat and grime. She lays
a graceful palm across each gash, then pulls
his blood in braids around him. All the rips
seem one now and she, mistress of the hunt.
He offers her his head. Her fingers hunt
through clots of curls to draw the cleanest down
like sunlight, soft and gold, before she rips
some out. He winces and a smile breaks
across his face. “So brave,” she says. She pulls
his wrist. He rubs his chin and lets her lay
him on the skin. His hair she twines to lay
atop the casket. It unlocks. She hunts
inside, by subtle art decides and pulls
an apple out. She points it up and down,
then says, “As root and fruitful bough, the broken
body be.” With a twist, she deftly rips
the fruit in two. She crushes half and drips
juice bitter on his lips. The rest she lays
across her own. He nods. She bites. His broken
cries shake the Great Ash as if Heimdall’s hunting
horn sounds at last. She holds him, pressing down
against the healing, though he writhes and pulls
at her the way the snake will writhe and pull
one day at him. Her body burns. He rips
her robes away. She heaves and bears him down.
Bones knit. Cuts close. He weakens till they lay
each to each, close as skin. His right hand hunts
his left so their embrace cannot be broken.
She pulls his braids around her neck and lays
her cheek on scarring rips. He sobs and hunts
for breath. They know deep down he still is broken.
Witch of the Pines
Witch of the Pines put on her rabbit cloak
and fastly hopped down a near fingerboard.
A man with blue hands there was waiting for
her Bill to either put him in an oak
or see him render up her gold-filled poke.
He fared as well as those who’d tried before.
She darted from the braken and restored
herself with just a pinch of blue-white smoke.
He knowed her and looked set in sugar sand
until she pled, “You take my cloak instead.”
Now feeling pretty middling smart, he said,
“I will.” He put it on and was unmanned.
That’s when Bill shewed. He shot the rabbit true
and gave it to her proudly for a stew.
Stephen S. Power’s work has appeared most recently in Innisfree Poetry Journal, Iron Horse Literary Review, The Lyric and Nervous Breakdown and is forthcoming in Clarion. He’s a senior editor at the business publisher Amacom, and he tweets, often about poetry and publishing, at @stephenspower.
Q: Talk about the pleasures of formal poetry, if you would.
A: I write formal poetry because I find the demands generative. For instance, I think of rhymes as guideposts that help determine the direction I should take as well as provide a little reward when I finally pass them. Similarly, as someone who rambles, I need lines of a certain number of feet to force me to be precise.
Q: You take a different angle on that most durable of superheroes, by considering his (earthly) father. Which of the Superman incarnations is your favorite, and why?
A: Although I devoured all the George Reeves TV shows in reruns when I was a kid–you can watch my favorite episode here:
Q: You’re a resident of New Jersey, home of the Pines Witch–and the Pines Wizard. Could you discuss this legend and how you came to address it in your work?
A: Although I’ve lived in Northern New Jersey for 15 years now and grew up in Rockland County, New York, just across the border, I didn’t know about the Pines Witch until I read John McPhee’s book The Pine Barrens last year. I was fascinated by the story and the locals’ manner of speaking, which McPhee discusses at length, and decided to try and write a folktale about her in their vernacular. She doesn’t get nearly the popular attention the Jersey Devil does.
Q: Would you consider yourself a poet of the spring, summer, winter or fall? What season is most apt to be reflected in your work, and why do you think that’s the case?
A: Fall at the cusp of winter, that is, the man poking his toe just over the ledge.
No Thor question? In that case, let me just recommend Jason Aaron’s Marvel Now Thor series. I haven’t seen “Dark World” yet because I can’t imagine it would compare favorably to his books.