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———-—After John Milton, Paradise Lost

…To meet the noise of his almighty
engine, he shall hear infernal thundering,
and, for lightning, see black fire.…

He put it on a rack to see
its secrets; it was running rich,
radio on, music, not noise
but signal. Nina Simone singing
“Mississippi Goddam.” Just after
Medgar Evers stood in his driveway
carrying a box of T-shirts, shot in the back
by Byron De La Beckwith. It was then
and not a solitary thing but a chain,
not a serpentine belt but somewhere timing
gets accursed, and in a cursed hour.…
And then Moloch sang, and then Belial.
Sometimes when you turn it off it keeps
on running; sometimes it never cranks.
Turn a light on and hear the neighbor
drag down the trash. The old
cars had iron, the new, light aluminum
alloy, chromium, even plastic.
His father-in-law with Alzheimer’s walking
along Highway 6 to flag a semi.
To ask where he was. Between yes
and no. He might be one he’s
talking to in the cab, radio lit red
and lime green, fog in alfalfa.
Down the diesel high church whine
of closed systems, the new iron.
Water and land keep touching
each other, backing away, touching.



Ralph Burns has published seven books, most recently But Not Yet, winner of the Blue Lynx Poetry Award. He has recent poems in The Common, Crazyhorse, Cimarron Review, and Georgia Review.




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