Stephen Sturgeon

Let us speak this time as if the loss
were retrievable. I speak to great birds,
coaxing their perch upon my burnt shoulders,
upon your hands loosing benedictions.
Oracles are not all predictable.
Let us too speak as they would yell to us,
flatly, of ghostes and spirites walkyng by nyght.

Shall I impart a rare secret, how great
famous conjurers, cunning men, ascend
by degrees to foretell secrets as they do?
The lessons teach beginner’s thievery:
to deny derivation, to propel
the practice of memory to tomorrow
(the future presentation of the past),
and most importantly to make things fit,
and to throw flesh into the wold for dogs
unchained by flash itinerant wardens,
you splashing tracks wading the river’s shore,
the run of gnash draining of threat far back.

I do not know the proper tone to take
mostly now and when the faces conjoin
expectant in cramped auditoriums
where piano music for left hand played
with right fist cracks, surrounds the night in flanks
of disappointment gleaned by both sides.
What do you speak after penguins enter
the trembling bear-baiting ring? Entrée trays
slide off laps onto the floor, the first act
takes back the stage to rehash. The English
is not a native tongue; still, you have no
second language to beg help. Speak error.
You’ll fall safely and warm beside the stove
after the work has finished that long day.
Buenos dias, mon ami. All will right itself
in our honesty. These errors are correct.
They project a giant, marvelous light
by which a colder eye can study small
failures that veer lives off beyond; correct,
and cause us much of the (how do you say)
sweet joy; correct, in the light of honest
failure. Next door, the old girl can recall
when that street’s name was changed from Strangler’s Lane,
and that one from Embezzler’s Ave., and one
by the bank from The Counterfeiter’s Row.
All attempts to reclaim the swastika
have smoldered, despite our loose-handed stare
into the siren blast. That’s contrition.

I’m stealing laughter from far in the dark.

O my gal—O my good good gal;
that’s over; improvisation inspires
a thirst for theatrics more demonic
than the hawing of a mind’s clipped blinking.
Drink a little water, Sylvie—a little
water now; that’s over; only slavery
moulds song true. Maybe a man’s name doesn't
matter that much; that’s over; you can tell
a charlatan by the chalk whispering
out of his cuffs. What does it mean when things
present themselves; it means, it means that we
have seen them; that's over. That’s over.

I trust that you have written me in. Your
made history rides a problematic
matrimony between what in the world
is real and honor to traditional
convenience. You honor all that you want,
forging and forgetting slick orbits
that bind our vows in transparent movements.
The motion to remove darkness from night
is an imposition worthy of Death.
Just forge my autograph to this warrant
and assume my attendance at the birth.

Mourning has levels to it, and we meet,
zipping different amplitudes in the shaft,
up down, sharing in transit a numb space.

Reclamation, as licentious as moon
steps; pairing wildflower to wallpaper.


i.m. Landis Everson

What one astronaut says to another
is heaven’s business, communicable
by fusion and frisson alone. Orbit

had been vicious to their visions. Timeless
protons and propaganda had melted
the re-entry shield. Once a week they learned

how, despite machinery’s schadenfreude,
love can transmit in outer space: keenly,
while audio from their families played,

they would display gazes, listening
to earth but watching each other, like beasts.
“You were going to tell me something else,”

or “When we sleep, still I dream about space,
one dazed night reaching past our world. We, though,
are here, and have done that”—besides these

there was no truth to say. On walks outside
their brittle capsule, they went holding hands,
feverish, memorizing through visors

blacknesses that did and did not surround.
Climbing into their circular quarters,
de-suiting and trading turns with the comb,

memories no longer complained. Humid
from breath, now they nap. The solar system
uses gravity’s surreal transactions

for deadweight, tips its discs and clustered chips
observably away from live sightlines.
Even so, the universe is a grave.





Think of a man
arrayed on a beach

the force of the universe’s
total light combined
and concentrated on his nose

His garments are the usual ones
He has no hope of abnormal wealth

nor hope to drift
one foot balanced on a pin
cushion across the Pacific

to great acclaim from the papers
Think of this man

of how his nose
should be his best feature




Returned from a far walk
through the Hungarian jungle
and having found success there
in our work

we thought about a man
You wait and I will tell you
Not your everyday character
Someone more like a water faucet

than is customary
He had priestly teeth
and a head like a carwash

When we began to think
of this man and his various ways
we had no more use for the world




Is it wrong
to think of a man
as one would think
of a girl

The needed energy

is enormous for this

Most advise against it
I do not see why

we should not think of men
as girls

think of men or as men
think of girls

I do not see
why we should think of men 



Black Moon snuck behind an Oriental screen.
Poor Miss Black Moon jitterbugs and unseen
spies occasion to whistle and unwind,
when her invitation is maligned.
When she falls, black moon sinks along the shine,

says What the world is this. Isn’t mine.

Two black moons slouching, talking about bed,
sing blue-moon-I-knew-thee-when-you-were-red,

beseech of Old Black Moon What are you like?
A geyser. No. The Pine Barrens. A shrike
who eats my friend the walking-stick beneath a yew.
Black moon reflects I don’t know what I’m like,
tho I’m cautious where I am. Too true, too true. 



The ground pursues us, we pursue the ground,
and my laugh is the laugh of the farmer’s laugh,
laughing as the farmer grows the corn in his kitchen.
Or taking the switch to a ruddy stump,

one will say, “Does this move me? Am I a thought
betrayed?” And moving to a pot of husks
and dialing up the flame, there’s no harm thinking,
“I put the smile on my creature’s face.

I am more the more I move.” But it is not the sun
prowling through Magellan’s fortressed hair
that pulls, planet-like, thoughts into an ear.

This morning I have seen my creature die.
It is not the sun that makes, or can feel
the interminable burning of standing still. 




In the beginning I was happier.
The rocks spun. So close the air was to my face
I sparely breathed. It was a cold man
with thoughts like this:

there is no end to what was done.

Concludingly, I seethed, and found myself
among the savage environments,
enjoying it. No unresponsive censure
in the pit, nor gust nor plume where widows ran.

The clouds bore each other, anchored
to the deepest bowl of land,
and on the line they flailed. I said,
“Speak with me, I too am contained,”
and that was fine, I struggled with my smiles,
identifiable as they were,
though overwhelmed, and invisible.

Friends in this time of material and woe
were calamitous, spiteful, too deep below
to see what bellowed through my fears.

Enemies, by chance, were my only peers.
I watched them, from on a hill, at its top,
thinking, everything falls down that will come up.

Then, with the earth, my body twisted
as the memory of armies floating
into the other scaled worlds like a worm.
And the water was full, and the fire
was full. Patches of grass curled into thoughts
festooning the multiple domes, physical,
eager to wreath creation’s plangency
with a fiber that could perpetuate.

A shallow quarry grappled with its sand . . .

I tore bushes entire from the ground
and tirelessly they fed within my hand.

 BY A TREE (a fragment)

In any case the whole drift of social development was
to make things difficult for the independent minstrels
and to restrict the area of their wanderings.
E. K. Chambers, "The Medieval Stage"


It was not time to cheer the day.
A sailor’s head sat in a tree
preaching on what it could not be.

“You must have come from striking far
to spread your country’s ideas here.”
“That is not why. It was not far.”

“Then you have taken to that tree
to witness our philosophy.”
“I did not do it. I can’t see.”




A child behind his tented hands.
An empty house someone commands.
Such quiet thrived in that tree’s bends,

it could be why the head came there—
to fixate a shambolic fear.
It is not why. It cannot hear.

It hears the calm that comes before
and after closings of a door.
It hears the dawn throughout the day.


Almost, almost the head began.
The tree was too live, or too wan.
The head’s eyes, a constellation,

would weep, like starlight through a sieve.
Some wanted this pale head to leave.
“Explain to us if you’re alive.”

“But things I say will not remain
equal to their naïve demesne.
What you don’t see, I hear the same.”




“I think he wants to sail the land,
and rub his keel where waters end,
to feel different, and understand.”

“I think no matter where he goes,
if he arrives then he is lost.
Absence, to him, is a caress.”

“With every word, my final bow.
The moon erodes. The breezes flow.
I will become what I am now.”




Now when it rained the head would stare,
regard each drop, pronounce each fair,
and drink some with paternal care.

And when it snowed the head would sing,
aware of how the cold flakes clung
and wilted like subjects to king.

It sang like mowers to a rose
in error they drowsily thresh,
who, sorry, hear sound, and not voice.




The head was offered fish, then wine,
a veal-calf roasted in the sun,
and apples, and refused to dine.

“He will not eat because no mouth
responds to banquets after drought.
Our meals arrive too soon, too late.”

“Hunger aspires to be pain.
I want no food. I am my own.
A stone well nourishes a stone.”




“You’re only ‘lost’ for just so long.
Some ages pass, you become ‘gone.’ ”
The people came, people walked on.

“I can’t remember who they were,
counting leagues until the dry shore,
the buildings’ shades each one would bear—”

the sailor’s head searched its wet thought.
“Ideas are nowhere in my art . . .
The sun is cold . . . The stars are not . . . ”




Concerning years, how they black out
to loose and perpetual sight
that frees the witness to his doubt,

engraves imprimaturs on thaw:
those unseeing—oh, how they saw
the dumb reflections of an hour

initiate the head’s prelude,
on solace tangled in the word;
on constancy; on ash renewed.


to Katia Kapovich

Remember the greasy park
on the final warm day of that hot year—

pigeons that pouted toward the curbs
with a bench-woman feeling her torn teeth
as if each were a son banished from distances
paltry with age—

what were you doing posing
inside its drained fountain while a bus
struck past the cabbage-green fence
bleating at heaven and hell? Later the rain

stuck on our skins like candles’ gelatinous wax
and wiping it from my arms with newspaper
closing my eyes I could not see you

in your spotted shorts stepping into that bowl,
then, sanely glancing at the traffic’s maze,
tying your hair back with an elastic
the way a climber will do
before catching onto the mountain.



I. The Expulsion


Cannot translate angelic malfeasance
into the precursor to a prayer
or find words in the God-damned fields and trees.
They wanted what could not be found or worked for
and having exhausted weariness
of its élan, the self-wounding self
rewound tottered like a pinetop
in the gale or above the ax.
What harms we carry see us through
to harms we cannot,

cannot budge now past the intelligence
in the final outlaster, maker
of manner and silence shaking in mouths.
Only, to waddle while the slow land
filters the day . . . Some tears drip to the ground.
It is hard to be rid of them, the perfect
anagram of themselves, spun
within hours of their nebulous
originals, all-expanding, going
and coming, coming and going after all.


II. The Annunciation


Everything was OK until the day she woke
with the lights, and the field swayed to the right
so the stalks reclined like the dying,
marooned. It was then that this story began
which cannot be related, the Feast
of Radiant Lips, such forthrightness
under a clogging sky . . . Truly
you can count nothing against this
when the last things have been arranged
into their misericord, though many will try.

It was (so it was) an angel’s doing. It was
the angel who came here, an angel
who spoke then. What one eye banishes
the other eye must see. It was an angel
who forfeited our remaining
breaths. Not that we should know
innocence passed by, which cannot be related.
Away in the breath, the jury
of her reluctance hid, in breath action
should resound. Though this too is not the way.


III. The Wizard


A few people lifted their heads, the blind first.
Danilo Kiš, “Simon Magus”

The third thing I did was pummel through clouds
when the air buckled like a rotted knee
beneath my sandals. I thought I’d forgotten
how to float, but soon knew it was not I
who had risen me like a broken toy
to the carpenter’s lens, countless miles.
Thereafter all was wind—at one moment
I even flapped my arms . . . The first thing was
not difficult, shaman’s rhetoric, my
cold eyes cast into the cold crowd, and they,

such people, latched their taunts onto my trick
which even I had thought impossible.
The second thing was to accept myself
as divine: I watched the earth’s scope broaden
until those peasants’ screams fell short of me;
I turned around and around, protected
in the sky’s immutability; I
wept at the grace of this action, and felt
the magnanimity of centered words.
I did not see it belonged to someone else.





Breaking through the wheat
beyond austere Appalachia

a buffalo shone his horned teeth
at the previous hour enfaced on his eyes

and it was a sullen noise.
It was the wheat’s hour.



Beyond the wheat the previous hour
waited for Appalachia to rise.

Beyond Appalachia the buffalo
rolled in the wheat.

In the wheat where the eye was beaten tan
the eyes were girded tight and round.



Hallelujah buffalo! Appalachia cried.
Without a witness but its sound

the robust sullen wheat expires.
Roaring rolling in provender

the previous hour leaves the eyes.
The buffalo leaves his skin behind.



The end he wanted was always elsewhere.
He had not introduced the brightnesses
that would not leave or help him off the boards

when he needed to rise or sit alone,
but they stayed, yawning in his yawning eyes.
He could not participate for their mirth

and conceived of funiculars arrayed
on verdigris slopes wet by eastern spring,
stationed throughout auspicious altitudes,

early as he hanged pictures on the wall.
But they did not assemble how he would.
Humble at mirrors, often travesties

in craquelure seemed there, and a doctor
splaying the convalescence in his hands,
hands like the homely colors men would hold

when they scan pigeons cringing to an eave.
But there were never pigeons, never eaves.
The tree beats the window, and he is flayed

to see the caustic colors assemble,
the beauty of showing up hours late,
a kind of courage in not beginning.

STEPHEN STURGEON's poems in this issue of The Battersea Review were published in his book Trees of the Twentieth Century (Dark Sky Books, 2011). He is the English and American Literature Librarian at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter at

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