By Stuart Dybek
They were nearing the end of their story.
The fire was dying, like the fire in the story.
Each page turned was torn and fed
to flames, until word by word the book
burned down to an unmade bed of ash.
Wet kindling from an orchard of wooden spoons,
snow stewing, same old wind on the Gramophone,
same old wounds. Turn up the blue dial
under the kettle until darkness boils
with fables, and mirrors defrost to the quick
before fogging with steam, and dreams
rattle their armor of stovepipes and ladles.
Boots in the corner kick in their sleep.
A jacket hangs from a question mark.
Source: Poetry (June 2012)
Stuart Dybek is a masterful short story writer as well as poet. The qualities that distinguish his fiction—a strong connection to place, particularly his native Chicago, childhood nostalgia tinged with irony, a meandering narrative pace, and an ability to find beauty amid urban blight—also characterize much of his poetry. Few writers have captured street life as movingly as Dybek. The son of a Polish immigrant, he has published two critically acclaimed books of short stories, The Coast of Chicago and Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, as well as a collection of linked stories: I Sailed with Magellan. He teaches at Western Michigan University and lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
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Fire ran horrified
from its ashes.
In the afterglow,
cinematic shadows fled
from flesh and blood.
followed years later
by their wounds.
Blinks of red
but there was
nowhere to stop
for the train
pulling its wreckage.
The garments worn in flying dreams
were fashioned there—
overcoats that swooped like kites,
scarves streaming like vapor trails,
gowns ballooning into spinnakers.
In a city like that one might sail
through life led by a runaway hat.
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That was the year we drove
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“Jesus Jim,” mam said,
“back up quick they’re hippies.”
Through the car window,
tents, row after row, flaps open,
long-haired men and women
curled around each other like babies
and the babies themselves
wandered naked across the grass.
In the warmth of night I put feet to my plan: waited
for my brothers to sleep. They’d spent the day
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filling gourds with fresh water. They’d bundled
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