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James Hoch


Soft Shells

There's a silence this early
autumn afternoon, butter
browning in a sauté pan, soft
shells dusted with walnuts.

There's a bottle of wine half-
poured, and the men, too, content,
tear the faces off half-alive crabs,
lay them gently on their backs.

There's a ticking of salt, ratchet
of pepper, air hissing through
bodies, and even this seems less
brutal in silence, as the men watch,

through the kitchen window,
the women walking out back,
following the path under young
maples and wind-rattled leaves.

God knows what's being said,
though they climb and set, climb
and set quietly over the ridge,
while the men, casually drunk,

work with knives and glass,
not saying a word about who's dead
or dying, struck by car or cancer,
not asking whether love fails

when made to be other than it is.
And even if I told you, my friend,
that the men are not you and I,
and the women not our new wives

heading toward an inevitable dark,
that the cabin burned this summer,
there is silence in such fiction,
moments crisping into a life.


Amorphophallus titanum,
The Corpse Flower


So long as we waited the flower
emerged from the seed box
in the corner of the greenhouse.

So long as the masks fit perfect
and the rain fell harmless
like a gentle ignorance,

so long as we shut the night vents
and tended the bed careful
like a rag on fire, a child's rage,

so long as the gloves were canvas
and there was time
and everything else mattered less

and we kept ourselves quiet
and the glass opaque,
we could say, isn't it beautiful?


The Color

For M.

Like this madrona, so large it has
nearly overtaken a small island,
and shedding so clean I almost feel
embarrassed for its lack of cover,
and watch the bark on the water,
slow to drift, sink in the sound,
then run my hand over the limbs
reddening in the sun, a winter burn,
and want to say, sorry; no matter
how light or willing, it hurts a little
to be touched where there is no skin.


Fulgurite

Where lightning struck sand,
     fused grains into thin roots

of glass. What a friend called
      branching, as we walked,

carefully over the fired beach.
     One of the shapes of nature,
like rivers & trees, leaf veins,
     the lines of a palm, a hand

like the boy's in Caravaggio's
     The Lute Player, so delicate,

so hollow, as if to touch strings
      means shattering. Years ago,

and now you stepping out
     of the shower, I'm thinking

of fulgurite & New Jersey
     its sad piers, one October,

watching a horse harnessed,
     lifted by a crane, the look

of bewilderment stricken
     to its face, legs dangling

as it's lowered gently
     onto the high dive.

I'm thinking of what passes
     through its head, each time

they prod, stick & voice,
     to leap off the platform

and fall into a small pool,
how holding you was

like holding a raw piece
of glass, cicadic skin

born from white light, white
heat, like this hand, mine,

now,open enough for the slope
of a hip, bend in waist,

crest of sacrum, trembling
first like an animal, pressed,
then a wave low, insistent,
hushed against your body.