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John Guzlowski

John Guzlowski


(for Bill Matthews)


She dreams of suicide, a sea of black birds
Devouring the sun, her grandmother moving
In rags through the forest, dancing until she falls.

She knows these aren't her dreams. They belong
To someone else, a film-noir princess, drifting
Through blue rooms with a revolver in her hand.

He is a poet, older than he looks. He likes
To joke that he gets disheveled if he sees a bottle
Thirty feet away. When he reads his poems to students
It's clear he is committed to his own death.

The stale color and softness of his face mark him.


They come together at a party
And talk about travel, the old walls
Of Siena, the half-light
Like a shawl above Assisi.
They love the same poets:
Neruda with his sad poem
About a violin playing
In a darkening street,
And Richard Hugo
With his sure knowledge
Of empty spaces
And how to keep moving.

The music is loud
Yet seems far away.
Something by the Kinks,
She says. Maybe “Lola.”
She can feel it in her throat

And gives him her hand,
The gray painted nails
Like tombstones,
The fingers thin
And clean, the fingers
Of an altar boy
Who has washed them
And used them in prayer.

He tells her about his poems
The early ones with the image
Of a river running beneath a house.

She's read them.
They're a parable, she says,
Of sand and impermanence,
Wet death rushing
Like a drunken driver
Out of the night.

She knows she can't make love
To him the way she wants,
Without design or excuses,
Without reference to teaching,
Their children, the wars in Africa,
The blood that passes between them.

Even if they could
She knows she'd regret it later
Waking separately to the morning
To the birds and the light.


To say something
She says, “I'm not beautiful.”

He asks her if she writes.

When she nods, he says,
There are no beautiful writers.
Their faces are shaped
By the fingers of their words
And the words are never