Jan/Feb 2009 Poetry Special Feature

Four Word Poems

by Taylor Graham

Artwork by Robert Hoover


Dark. Any second, the radio alarm
will burst in with global ruin.
Down the hill, a brawl of barking.
Oily flash of headlights against my wall.

At last, a pallid dawn, the hollow
of morning. Oak trees in skeleton, no hint
of spring. On the main road, uneasy
pulse of a Thursday commute

broken by a quick snap
of branch by the gate, clatter of running
on rock. A spike
buck I've never seen here

springing up the creek, clearing each
stairstep heap of boulders, pausing to gaze—
eyes/nostrils wide—gauging
whether I belong.


Considering Empty Spaces while Calling "Lucky"

A young brown tabby, declawed, in a house
of brawls, where the old black cat
hates him, and she has claws.

I've called his name and checked his dish,
where tuna flakes on a skim of oil.
His bed in the closet is cold

as dregs of winter, pallid-gray.
It smells of storm.
What voids to shelter under the deck?

Birds find hollows in hopseed hedge,
mice know every crawl space
where January wind is testing latches.

Rains a silver spatter against glass.
Does the black cat gaze at her reflection?
All the birds are gone.


New Year's Eve

From the station, the bus
threads back streets where through glass
I glimpse a brawl—four men
mutely brutal under red neon. A barred door,
outskirts of a nameless town. The bus
won't stop here, gathers speed
to gain the interstate, asphalt glinting
oil-slick in a rain that turns to downpour
sheeting against windows.
Flashing lights, accident clearing
ahead. From behind me, someone
coughs, another curses. Across,
a woman's humming "Auld Lang Syne."
A pallid girl stares through her own
reflection into the hollow
of night. Will this coach bear her
to a better year?
Midnight's still three hours
distant, dawn's nothing but the hope
for a lighter gray above the horizon
as our bus sails its dark river.


Spotting Towhee

Winter dawn. Already,
birds are pecking seeds I scattered
on the deck. White-crowned Sparrow,
Dark-eyed Junco, Oak Titmouse.
On the fringes, a squall, a brawl of Scrub
Jays. Pallid ghost-mask, White-
breasted Nuthatch head-first down
a deck-post. Here inside,
I keep the oil lamp low,
my reflection quiet.

What's that
in the depths of hedge?
Spotted Towhee. How can I be sure
when the light's so dim,
the bird adept at hiding?
Call it the faith of cold weather.
I breathe
into the hollow of my hands.
They itch
for more seeds to fling away.


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