Mudlark Poster No. 20 (1999)

Michael Cadnum

Seven Poems

Letter to the Blackmailer  |  Duration  |  Forgiveness
Call Waiting  |  Source  |  Sleep  |  Rising

Michael Cadnum is author of fifteen novels, including RUNDOWN (Viking), IN A DARK WOOD (Orchard Books), and SAINT PETER'S WOLF (Carroll & Graff). Cadnum has also published several collections of poetry, including THE CITIES WE WILL NEVER SEE (Singular Speech Press) and a picture book for children, THE LOST AND FOUND HOUSE (Viking). His sixteenth novel, THE BOOK OF THE LION, will be published by Viking in Spring 2000. Cadnum lives in Albany, California.

Letter to the Blackmailer

      Scion of
stucco and the strip mall,
Saturday nights pinching
powder out of the Baggie seam,
you have the right kind of faith.
There was always more to come.
Even when you knew

those pix were doctored, the bare
cocktail hostess smiling
beside some other junket-happy
nudist, not me, it didn't

shake your hope. Fast-forwarding
those videos of harmless idolatry,
me adjusting my truss, me
plucking and pouting, but always

chaste, near-virgin,
remote-battery dying in your fist,
you refuse to despair, refuse to curse
the congress-free chapters ahead.
Fear-free, it all makes sense to you,
shadow to the curvetting

gelding, zipper on the assassin's
fly, believing in rhymes,
an ordered sequence.
Adding it all up, every
jockey short fits, each

dream finds its sleeper,
as you thrive, a scream
searching canyon and
condo for the exact
just-parted lips.


And the drought, rising
out of the ground, through
the cracks in the white lawn.
            As though
where once had come water
now came the opposite,

marl and mirage, the fields
knives set out,
shivering with the passing traffic.

I undress but turn away
so you don't see the little smile down there,
the scar where they put a stop to it.
What do you want? When are we going?
The questions were in the books,

the languages we learned always
through chapter three, how to greet aunts.
Sometimes a story stops and then
keeps going, page after page. It still
wasn't cold enough to kill mayflies and
mosquitoes, but by midnight

the distant bullfrogs fell mute,
spending money an obsolescent
phrase by the time the thieves
snatched my clutch and ran
yelling the newest obscenity, your name.


Torches by the slack river,
and cooking fires, the mad woman
chained to the grave.
Midnight, drift-rain,
the palm fronds glistening.
Each day a hand, open, shut.

Each night a mouth.
I asked the priest to wait,
and while he stirred
the love-philter into his tea,
I unbuttoned, combed,
perfumed. Touch by touch,
the caress, the lather, the feathery

parse of the razor's
hiss. The hold
on forgetfulness, how I learned
to love you again, your
absence cob-webbing
the days, morning glory

lacing the drought cracks
in the adobe field.
Even my lies are true,
down to the tan-line.
Stripsearch, and all
is discovered. Your family
huddles away from the burning car.

Call Waiting

You were the cottonwood, the beet-dark stones,
someone else was the stream, the breeze.
What you were saying was see-through,
held to the view of pasture, of valley.
Where was the message,
the import of your counsel,

heavy with the deaths of heirs.
Where was the prayer-vocalized,
the song in flight. Someone else was
the timber, the weft,
oak, flax. Someone else was
the strata, page upon page
of stone on the road cut,

each chapter bleeding water.
You were the gray jay
chuffing, tittering. You were the feather
lost by the cock-sparrow.
Someone else was the mountain,
the ridge at high noon, snow
seared off the spine by the mistral,

nine moutaineers in peril.
You were the listened-to,
heralds panting in the corridor.
You were the voice I
raised a hand to, the candle
eclipsed with a gesture, a twitch

of gown I turned and turned
away from. Listened. Turned away.


The path across the pasture
trodden by the cattle,
the sales office scribbled
with your pet names,
all night the coroner's men
gathered bones from the dry creek.
The excavation for the new pipeline,
the one from the far north,
and the ancient conduit is
exposed, monstrous with black rust.

Nowhere is it more plain
than the school yard where
what is left by now is
scrap, zipper jackets
and single pink stockings
blown by the prevailing
funk through the chain link fence.
Part by part we feed
what we have to the geese.
Midnight and the stitches

begin to burn. "Phone sex"
you said it was when I dialed
the "secret" number for delivery times,
my new carpet on the freighter's
manifest at last. Through it all
while the sweat-hog's tip
went soft in my hand,
ten dollars for dumping
a roll of plush, I kept my breath mint
and my best scarf in place.
No one laughs as well as you did,
one foot forward, the rest flame.


            after Hippocrates

If the stones, the round
sling-pebbles of the kidneys,
seek the daylight.
If the tumor shrinks, and finds refuge
deeper, in the forest of the heart. Do no harm.
From peace will spring strength, whether

of the child unpracticed
in seduction or of the man, long
accustomed to strife, even
unto battle. There are veins

behind the ear which severed
prohibit the flow of semen.
The brick moved from the shade,

the bucket dropped all the way down
to midnight. A word
spoken to the sleeper should never
chasten. A day yet to dawn with its

fevers must be attended,
its breath, its golden body,
the dark with its ivory branches.
Let the waking come unbeckoned. Stay,

and the hours rise, the slumber endures,
whether lids closed or eyes
wide and staring, the sleep
attended silently of which we
are the dreams.


Someday, they think, the sea will
give what it has taken,
and the sun step rung by rung
down the sky.

A stall of apples,
leaf, twig, and the tart,
tarry perfume of almost-fermenting.
The fruit cold, night inside,

real night, what the hand and
the city wall is filled with.
The twin seams of tractor tread
across the sidewalk, the morning glory
plowed, stiff curls of clay, clods
that startle into wings.

An aspirin at noon, fresh fish
twice a week. A water filter,
long walks after work.
But when I wake and want to stay
just that way beside you,
when does my body choose

to leave the bed and go
sure and ignorant
into the outer room?

Copyright © Mudlark 1999
Mudlark Posters | Home Page