by Benjamin Balthaser
The red hooded birds on this island city run
in formation, like disciplined school children, boxed
on branches, scattered before the windshields of King St’s
blue scooters. Everything else is heat. The banks of the canal
blaze into green. The sky darkens like wool under water.
There are so many possible bridges on an island, all
that unravel into fog. We are not gods, even if
we can make infinities with language. We are now
a year into this season of death. I won’t lie,
there is nothing else I can think about. What I have to say
as impossible as the future: whiskey that rises like a moon
into a crystal bay, your voice when quoting your favorite poet,
how cold is not just the absence of heat, but another country
of weight, the way, at 5 below, the delicate origami of ice
against the kitchen window tells of the darkness beyond.
The gray military bulk of a cruiser curves the red line
of the horizon: there are no other fields for meaning.
The broken, untended streets, the honeyed slush
of a hundred accents scenting English
all insist, afterall, this place is made for pleasure.
I drink iced coffee, listen to the static hiss of the ocean
beyond a line of breadfruit trees blurring into shade.
The city I actually live in is nothing but winter. I am in love
with its lack of contrasts, with its certainty, with the limited
but clear ethics of saying goodbye, when losing still felt
small enough to hold like a drink, or the white migraine of an empty page.
Benjamin Balthaser’s creative and critical work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Massachusetts Review, Boston Review, Minnesota Review, Laurel Review, the anthology _What Saves Us_, and elsewhere. Balthaser’s 2012 book of poems, Dedication, details the lives of blacklisted Jewish activists during the McCarthy era, and his 2016 book from University of Michigan Press, Anti-Imperialist Modernism, explores connections between cross-border, anti-imperialist movements and the making of modernist culture at mid-century. Balthaser is currently an associate professor of multi-ethnic literature at Indiana University South Bend and lives in Chicago.