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Poetry Friday

Each element in Haven’s poem returns to the visual of childhood games, like hopscotch or tic-tac-toe. The image of boxes containing “Xs and Os” haunts the poem, creating a pattern that compartmentalizes our speaker’s reckoning with the past. This reckoning is “a tally where no one / should ever win.” The poem speaks to a “you” who is the center of a tableau of images: “your old bicycle with the rusted chain,” “the willow of your boyhood window,” and “a box of chalk dissolving on the sidewalk.” Each of these images echoes the curved and square shapes Haven establishes at the beginning of the poem. We begin in isolation as the speaker asserts, “Sometimes the mind rises only into its own sky.” Reminiscent of the moon or sun, the mind becomes a round object. “Our names” become “flat rocks.” Grief takes shape. Each shape of grief contains memories and conjecture, and each one points to loss. The speaker draws out the memory of the “you” from a “momentary prayer” and makes it accessible in each deft, moving frame. As it concludes, the poem gathers these images, as if around a pot of sauce or around a table, together encircling the present.

-Erin Griffin Collum

“Rusted Chain” by Stephen Haven

Sometimes the mind rises only into its own sky
The day gone to wind and last night’s rain

Our names skipping like flat rocks
Across someone else’s hopscotch

Where once you scratched your Xs and Os.
Or was that tic-tac-toe, tally where no one

Should ever win, though you can blunder
Badly, losing in the lens

The spot that marks your name
Your old bicycle with the rusted chain

Leaning against the willow of your boyhood window.
Over dinner, mumbling to yourself, what will you say

When you come out of the rain,
A box of chalk dissolving on the sidewalk,

Some dead dog trailing you
Running to your whistle?

You have gathered there in some way station
Of momentary prayer, before the broken bread.

Well, it’s only your mother’s sauce,
Only a taste of her leavening the pot.

See, it must happen this way: Around
The set table, this new silence, this radical.

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