B. J. Best is the author of three books: State Sonnets (sunnyoutside, 2009), Birds of Wisconsin (New Rivers Press, 2010), and But Our Princess Is in Another Castle(Rose Metal Press, 2013). I got off the train at Ash Lake, a verse novella set in Wisconsin, is forthcoming from sunnyoutside later this year. He teaches at Carroll University in Waukesha and lives in West Bend.
from Yes (Madison: Parallel Press, 2014)
they stand like chessmen in the field
shorn down to stubble, and soon they will slide
across the troubled checkerboard of october:
early frosts slashed through by night.
they are gray and austere as dolphins
etched onto the lid of a coffin, as a tin bucket
filling with a truckload of snow.
this pair of downy candleholders, it is said
they mate for life, relighting their red crowns
again and again. it’s true: my wife
and i made our moves long ago: queen
to knight, cheek to chest, bird to bee.
now, when i stand cooking eggs
in the rookery of our kitchen, or i’m there
reading field guides in the rocking chair,
sometimes i feel grace sweep my neck
like a feather. i expect her to be behind me,
but no: she’s ironing, the fat silver tongue
grooming her clothes like a cat,
while she hums songs she’s made up
about mothers, flying, the weather.
a coin collection
in 1858, an eagle flew through the copper sky
of autumn, and just hung there: until
it was pressed into a blue album,
a photograph of a year i know nothing about—
except compromise, maybe, liberty and cotton,
or the way i forget my wife’s sadness:
each period is another vanished child.
these shoeboxes of coins—cracking barges of ore—
were given to me by my grandfather as easily
as an old deck of cards, a jangling solitaire
he couldn’t win. by then, he collected
almost anything: string, stamps, scrap wood,
antique tools clenched with rust that would never
hug another bolt, kiss another screw.
i must have been nine then, my cursive—
nickels needed—blooming in unsteady petals,
my lists austere graveyards of dates.
that summer, my fingers were sour with silver,
waving a magnifier like a lollipop of light.
eventually, he died. eventually, the coins
became uncirculated for more than twenty years.
still, they seem like good things to teach
a son: steel cent, carson city, seated liberty,
very good barber head dime. then, when he tires,
say, these coins are worthless, unlike wisdom,
and leave it at that—: and watch
how he spends his care, his money, his time.
when she asks me if i believe in god, i say
yes. when she calls me a liar, i say yes.
i’ve been trying to say yes to most things lately:
another beer; a broom that wants to kiss
the floor, coughing its tempests of dust;
the winter light that comes in all slanty;
the old pear of my guitar which i play
so poorly it scares the cats. watch tv?
yes. an antique tin with a golden woman,
fan, kimono? heavens, yes. waiting five minutes
until the taco shells are ready, hot little envelopes
of corn? yes, yes, yes. when she asks me
if i want to see her tanning-bed sunburn,
i say yes, and suddenly the seven inches of snow
to which i said yes are erased
by a parliament of cardinals calling yes from the pines.