Duane Locke: Four poems


I cultivate gladioli so I can
Speak to dirt. I have dug
Ten inches to find an ear.
I speak to what cannot hear.

In vain I confess what I could
Not tell you, or tell myself
As I press this sensuous bulb
Down in the damp earth.

It is the lascivious touch
Of ground around my knuckles
That keeps me talking.

The dirt is warm, feels like skin,
I know the dirt is not listening,
So I can reveal my secret thoughts.


Her backyard orange trees have the sounds
Of sapsuckers, piccolos, bluejays, flutes,
Oboes-the cerise coloratura of mocking birds,
The jungle tympanni of hummingbird wings.

The chains around my mind that alliterate
The rattle held over the cradle cannot be removed,
Either with hack saw or blow torch. No keys.
My brain wears in summer a wool convict suit.

The guardian angel who intruded and imposed
The jail sentence, like a Joycean artist pares
Its fingernails. His masterpiece toils.

Bees are born to buzz into corollas, become
Gold encircled, but my bees wear mitres, shake
Censers, their fuzzy feet encased in cement.


From the faded sepia photograph on the mantel,
A man in black suspenders secured by tin eagles,
Creaseless black pants, whose face
Now blank except for a bizarre blue coloration
Like a watercolor wash suddenly pale.
He spoke in his childhood voice what he had
Never spoken when alive. He spoke of
Orange-tipped fanned-out blue-white feathers,
Fireflies' flashing on wilted corn stalks,
Their dried ears with limp white-gold tassels,
The slippery green ground spotted
With starshaped white flowers by the pig pen.
The voice changed from that of a child
To an adult and became mute.


This pavement does not speak,
I cannot hear the earth beneath.
Its mouth is stuffed with the desires of the dead.
The only words I possess are obsolete.

There are no bodies anymore, only shadows.
The shadows are straight lines, not curved.
The shadows do not have hips or lips.
The shadows do not have pale blue eyes.

It was long ago, but I still recall the words
Spoken by the dirt around the roots of the pine.
The gulf copied blonde hair in the crests of its waves.

Now mirrors are useless, I cannot see myself.
I am no longer flesh, but a sculpture carved by a stranger.
I can't even cry, only stones fall from my eyes.