Fall 2011, Volume 11

Poetry by Al Maginnes


Now there’s a word to settle down with
                                        —Charles Wright

The word, springing from a long-forgotten novel,
sang with a notion that the world might display

its intentions, the furies and pleasures of its gods
so clearly that an attitude of wings, an angle

of ascent could tell us this one lives, that one
must die. In this realm, where sharp shadows

of birds and planes skim fresh-cut grass
like whispers out of an imagined heaven, any sign

that promises a world beyond this world is enough
to let us lie awake and wonder. And because

birds are the beings closest to Sunday school illustrations
of angels, men have grabbed hard to the notion

that birds have a toehold on the divine.
In Homer, a heron’s cry spelled luck to Odysseus.

An eagle’s appearance moved the Argive army to cheers,
But I’ve watched birds scrabble in dirt too long

to grant them too large a say over earthly matters,
and I was enchanted by the word’s music,

not any belief that my future was foretold.
Tonight wants the word woven into a poem

as deftly as birds works straw or shreds of plastic and cloth
into nests. But birds know what their nests must hold.

I have only a handful of syllables and a faith hatched
from birds and poems, sounds worth spending

a lifetime learning to divine.

A Chinese Poet Contemplates His Journey

The moon tonight means less than the sliver
            of fingernail I trimmed while I waited

for my wine. To the left of me, wars
            and the stories of wars. From the right,

mythologies and dust. I wish there was
             someone to play music. I would pay them

for a song that would help erase all
            that is looming and distant. I wish

I did understand one word I hear
            spoken around me. This purple wine,

this bench where I sit, the sun whose warmth
            lingers, like me, long into evening,

these are all things I hold dear tonight.
            Behind me, a grave. Before me,

another. Soon leaves will whirl
            and die, yellow tongues crisping brown.

The stark penmanship of trees will be written
            against a sky swept bare

as the stones I climbed to the school
            where I learned poems and numbers,

where I learned some roads led
            to the borders of this kingdom,

and some traveled beyond.




BIO: Al Maginnes is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Ghost Alphabet which won the 2007 White Pine Poetry Prize, and was published in October of 2008, Dry Glass Blues (Pudding House Publications, 2007), a single long poem published as a chapbook and Film History (Word Tech Editions, 2005). A former recipient of an Individual Artists Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, his poems have appeared in many national and regional journals and anthologies as well as the websites Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and How A Poem Happens. He lives with his family in Raleigh, NC and teaches at Wake Technical Community College.