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To Be Afraid

On shifting in the small wooden chair, he found he wanted to shift again, the mission he had begun earlier now seeming, next to comfort, inferior, an impression helped, of course, by the date, April 13, a strangely warm day, a gift, but not for concentration, and when the sweat under one of his buttocks made him wiggle and cross his legs, which in turn was uncomfortable, his sedentary life seemingly expanding his leg muscles, he brought his feet down with a smack, now addressing the problem of the note, he was silently calling it “the address,” ironic since the note was just a note you might send with a gift, that says nothing but is still read seriously, appreciated, though it did not explain the problem of moving on, unless the gathering sunlight overwhelmed him, or the jabbering cars on the cobblestone streets confused him, or the steady rip-ripping of the mopeds unnerved him, or the recipient bothered him, the note he should send but could not say he would send, normally, the absence of common ground a soft weight blocking his fist, the incidents of rudeness a collection of zephyrs, blowing him back, back, but failing and surpassing that, one might say that this man, despite his focus on his task, an involvement which translated to other tasks, often mistaken for aloofness, from the discussion of a funds transfer to the washing of a cup, was having a moment of premonition, beyond his intelligence level, which would not be repeated, and not just because it was unlike him, but because, at that moment, 150 city blocks to the north, a few hundred feet above, in one of the two small seats in a B-2 plane, a man was having the opposite problem, his task allowed for no shifting whatsoever, it took him a long time to learn that, it still agitated him, his agitation squelched by fear, superstitious, that if he did shift or twitch, and if a hand or a finger should brush the wrong button, an anomaly might occur, defying all security measures, including the “lock” key, but which he believed could happen, more than he used to, in the first weeks before going abroad, when each attempt was its own game, and each game less a game than an idea, a suggestion, but which had become less transparent, less each night he spent like this, circling in the dark, if you could call it circling, seen by no one, talking to no one, the captain beside him asleep, his own turn at sleep on the way, though he knew it would not be sleep, not after this, which amounted to following orders, a mere task, a mere goal, an objective, the killing of objectives, of ambitions, of people, subsumed under “mission” or “project” or “strategy,” not explained but announced, not justified but described, part of a larger operation, best if he didn’t think of it, of explaining it to those below, to his girlfriend, to his old high school friends, the ones who might clap him on the back, hug him like they meant it, like he was a good person, after what he’d done, unthinkable, unthinkable, a despair so great it felt like relief, excelsior, we’re going to the moon, excelsior, unthinkable.





Epiphany, An Opening, A Downright Upset

I had to confess that I was utterly confused by what occurred
One minute I had been at the bottom of the garden
The next my name was on the list to forget
This was not an effect I had strived to achieve
In fact the history of my sailing, flying, drifting
Should have been enough to assure endorsement
But with the changing of the sky in the east
There was a movement beneath our feet, beneath all of us
Nothing was what it had seemed to be before
Everything moved to a strange organ-grinding music
I was powerless to fight or even to raise a paw
If you were to be particularly harsh
You would say I let it happen
Yes, me, from the soft chair
Behind the upright metal meal tray
Where I was watching slow-moving trivia on the screen
Yes, me, I would have to say
In my finest black-and-white and staticky rasp
Shouting through the air tube of history
In which we all float like particolored game pieces
In some aquatic game invented by the Romans to end in elimination
But I digress: no, I blame you, after all, you were there the most
You knew the rules, and you knew the dance steps
At the party at the end of the year, you were the Dragon
They all trusted you, their necks all broke when you entered the room
It was an open-shut case, and you were sitting on top of it
Brandishing a thick marker as if it were a flaming sword
A slight shadow beneath your chin the only indication
That you were ahead of yourself, and it would be decades
Before you looked back, before you checked the record books
And realized that you’d pointed in the wrong direction,
That the man you’d sent out to the water was the wrong one
That you’d watched an age change wrongly, and you’d done nothing
That there was a hypothesis poking out of the soil
And you’d run it over with your two-seat lawnmower, pleasurably
And there had been ample chance for reversal but
Because of your earmuffs and the whistling of Mr. North Wind
You stayed dormant, made no sign of emotion or inner stratification
Just let stuff happen, just let yourself go as you wished
And the result was the development of groves, even forests, of trees
Growing rapidly wherever you threw yourself down
Growing darker and lighter all by themselves as if battery-powered
Somewhere deep within their brilliant leaves
And you saw those forests, enjoyed them, even embraced them,
Buckling under the hug of convenience, its furry breath notwithstanding
You watched the years change and you threw food, knowing it harmed no one
I raised my voice to change the direction of the wind
But all I saw was a swinging sign at the end of the street
Beneath which walked a mangy dog, progressing towards me
My name hanging from its anticlimactic, and yet final, jaws
I had wanted to feel free, and now here it was, and I felt like a goner.





Passage into Darkness

Burn me alive
Burn my will
Burn my shoes
Burn my flesh
Let me run
Let me sink
Let me strive
Let me be reviled
I am frightened
By the glory
But I will not
Shun its presence
But I will not
Turn my head
I will look into
Its smarter fires
Pull a bucket
Pull a stunt
Drink it down
Without considering
Toss it off
Like a spirit
On an avenue
Knew no guilt
What is All
If not a portion
Of the remaining greatness
Of the Forest
What said Love
When she was awake
When her feet were feet
Not the Rocky Mountains
Where went Fate
Went Fate
Into the Trees




Max Winter

MAX WINTER is the author of Walking Among Them (Subpress, 2013) and The Pictures (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2007). He is the co-editor of Solid Objects and a Poetry Editor of Fence. His reviews have appeared in the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, and elsewhere.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2014

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