Fall 2014, Volume 17

Poetry by Sean M. Conrey

The New History

Then there was the day the world slowed to a crawl
and the day a man walked the full length of the river
the morning the mother lived through and told the tale
the night the boy left home and slept beneath the alder

The day came eventually when the man shouted love
and then the moment he stopped the world fell in
the canvas the sky is painted on unraveled and drifted
as bundles of blue and white thread in the streets

Then seven girls on seven playgrounds wept on slides
and three broken church bells clamored for attention
the shadows grew long on the walls of the barricade
the boy with the chalk wrote the names of the dying

Then it’s said the clock took its cues from the sun
the slick rhythm of the barber’s strop edging
the sound of snowflakes sizzling on the pot lid
the day’s end a man’s face wincing in a flashlight

Then the wood on the table stretched out to its maker
the water held gently in the woman’s cold hands
the red dust washed away in a spray of new milk
the boy stood out of reach of the world of the book

There on the very edge of the world our feet dangle
and in the well of the void we shake off the dew
the rest is litter and bones in an overgrown thicket
or a new set of eyes set in one or the other of us.


I went into the forest to find god
and found confusion,
as when Moses set foot in the waste
and only after begging and despair
did food fall, which kept us all,
we might say, on the edge of deeper falling.
This cold morning with its sun
I reached into the edge of the world
and pulled out a gardenia,
pinned it to my lapel and smelled
the crosshatched passing between worlds
all day. Because I am an idiot
this was a poor balm.
I need more painful remedies.
I pound a poultice of feathers and rinds
in the wound of my day
and keep vigil for foul humors.
I shatter children’s glasses with my fist
and pray and cry with them after.
In the cathedral of hawthorns and ashes
I tire of green. The board bridge
through the swamp sinks into the ether
but I am wearing neither trunks
nor waders and refuse to go naked.
Who among the living can paddle this river
in the canoe of their own skin?
I make a face like my finger’s broken
and in the close-eyed quiet
god appears and pulls me through the door.
I am nowhere and for all the people
welcoming me, I fear their voices.


Background a splash of water,
a cold hand-sewn mitten,
the chamber torches and shadows,
ochre over a hundred hands,
the god who speaks from this spot,
the broken rope, the tied knot,
a fray of dancers in wet boots,
two words echo back in the dark,
nine last words for the ending,
the grave’s complete darkness,
texture of a man walking calm,
what the old man said just now,
the coiled red rope of it calling,
the mouth frozen and snowy,
the fire glows just a little still,
dance, dance to meet the one,
one who brings dancing always.




Sean M. Conrey teaches and coordinates the Project Advance program in the English and Textual Studies department at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, where he lives most of the year with his wife, Carol Fadda-Conrey, and his two daughters, Emily and Mira. He spends his summers writing and visiting family in Beirut, Lebanon. His poetry has appeared in
American Letters and Commentary, Cream City Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Midwest Quarterly, Notre Dame Review and Tampa Review, among others. His first book of poems, The Word in Edgewise, is available from Brick Road Poetry Press. A chapbook of his poems, A Conversation with the Living, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2009 and his monograph Coming to Terms with Place, a theoretical work concerned with how language affects our sense of place, was published in 2007. An album of original songs, Hosmer and Ninth, recorded with The Mercury City String Band, a revolving group of musicians, is available on CD and online through Soundcloud.