What Rough Beast | Poem for April 24, 2017

Miriam Sagan

not everything speaks
nor is it
necessarily silent—the artificial
painted sky inside
the casino
pastel clouds on elusive blue
neoclassical statuary…
what I want
but won’t purchase—
green or pink gelato, your view
of reality
this is…Venice?
of course not
we’re inside
an enormous building
and idea of a city
in the Nevada desert
where fake gondoliers
are actually
poling real
fake gondolas
and singing
in real Italian
to actual tourists

the mime is silent
sheathed in white, or is it shrouded
as the unlined page
but for a dollar
she will smile and
gesture you over
to have your picture taken
with her
this was startling
as if she’d spoken
words of endearment
or if, after all this
I myself had fallen silent.


women in headscarves
at the motel breakfast buffet
sit as Fox news
I sit next to them
and the mother of the group
shoots me a dazzling smile,
one girl
wears no scarf
hair falling freely
maybe a cousin
or she’s young enough.
of course I don’t know
but will make up something
since I lack a book
to read over coffee,
mourning doves hoot
and at the rest stop
large signs
warn us of rattlesnakes
while the yucca’s
spiky daggers
house a little flock
of finches,
the new moon
of the Jews
and you wished the priest
emerging from Christmas eve mass
a boisterous “Happy Hanukkah”
we sat
on the plaza
of old Mesilla
where hundreds
of luminaries—
candles in paper bags of sand—
were lit
and the sun
that shone over everyone
all day
set in the west.


pass the checkpoint
in the dark
driving south
towards the border, no need
to explain
why you are heading away
from the country of your birth,
Venus as
evening star
on the right hand
shining over the neighborhoods
of Las Cruces
lit for X-mas
houses outlined
in lights
the luminous shapes
of houses
Orion’s belt
hangs vertical
before us while overhead
dim Pleiades,
in our conversation
you driving
me with my old feet
still up on the dashboard,
the checkpoint is
down, no need
to stop
it’s possible
to tell the truth
without recrimination
as the past
continues on its own
story, with or without us,
like braille
surrounds us
with a tale
we can understand
just by
touching it.


Miriam Sagan is the author of 30 published books, including the novel Black Rainbow (Sherman Asher, 2015) and Geographic: A Memoir of Time and Space (Casa de Snapdragon). winner of  the 2016 Arizona/New Mexico Book Award in Poetry. She founded and headed the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College until her retirement in 2017. Her blog, Miriam’s Well, has a thousand daily readers. She has been a writer in residence in two national parks, at Yaddo, MacDowell, Colorado Art Ranch, Andrew’s Experimental Forest, Center for Land Use Interpretation, Iceland’s Gullkistan Residency for creative people, and another dozen or so remote and unique places. Her awards include the Santa Fe Mayor’s award for Excellence in the Arts, the Poetry Gratitude Award from New Mexico Literary Arts, and A Lannan Foundation residency in Marfa.

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