Two Poems by Jeff Rath

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That farmhouse squatted stoic in winter fields.
It had toyed for generations
with collapse:
      its undulate roof line,
      its broken glass
      shattered our flashlight beams.

Inside, musty furniture—
familiar to us all
at sometime past.
Its Victorian velour rubbed bald
and colorless.
      The stuffing poked through
      like thistle on a witch’s mole.

The atmosphere was Puritan:
choked with spidered loss.
It offered so little to sustain
      that mice inside the walls
      curled corpselike in despair.

Our voices tolled
hollow as frozen bells
caroled out their names
      in the jagged air around us.
Ghosts of blame and guilt—
      handed down generations in these rooms
      like family Bibles—
settle in our souls and bones
and fueled a doubt
we might ever find them now.

We discovered the heart
they had carved in crumbling plaster—
their names scratched inside
its ragged perimeter.
No doubt to commemorate
their fugitive love—
      instead of the tombstone
      we imagined when
      all we found were broken spokes
      of moonlight
among our footprints
and the wolf’s tracks
on the mute slate of last night’s snow.



The hard years have had their way.
Each of us gathered here
      had once raised tattered sails
and slipped away
from these coral reefs
      of who you could not be.

In the years between
unimproved by love
      you have cast us
upon this abandoned island of your desires.
Preserved us
      in memory’s imperfect museum

where you paw and inspect—
relish each moment
      for the clues it protects—
try to decipher when it was
everything came apart in your fingers
      like a weary puzzle.

If it is forgiveness you seek,
we are beyond that now.
      Only you know why you sculpted us
from your illusions.
Marooned us upon these shores
and keep us locked in your memory.

True, our obsidian eyes do stare out to sea.
Not because we anticipate
      your ship’s return.
Instead, we watch patiently,
for a smudge of smoke,
      an exaltation of flame on the horizon.


Jeff Rath is the author of four collections of poetry including Film Noir (Iris G. Press, 2011) and most recently The Old Utopia Hotel (Iris G. Press, 2016). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and can be found in the Delmarva Review, Bards Against Hunger, and Fledgling Rag.

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