Kenneth Salzmann, IL




Free Verse


Lane change; failure to signal


She’ll take the keys
without discussion; he’ll be content,
unquestioning in the passenger seat.

The first mapmaker, while clearly lacking
the global view, was persuaded nonetheless
by elongated blots approximating where he’d been

She’ll navigate little-known landscapes, accelerate
past exit ramps, breathe easily, exhale
minor mysteries, drive on.

She’ll drive on, passing
roadside signs, indecipherable
and that’s okay.

Early cartographers were defeated by perspective;
we map madly now, measuring continents and
gardens and galaxies and the shortfalls of the soul.
But for all of that and science, who can fix a point
and say, “I am there or was or will be?”

She’ll take the keys,
without discussion.



When the Plum Tree Blossomed


No one saw the plum tree this year ease
into its cloak of springtime blossoms
in the same week the forsythia
proclaimed the sun, in the same week
the hospital demanded all the living
we could muster. No one watched new buds
prepare for lace in the ironic promise
of fruit that will not come in later spring.
There was a year when plums formed and
dropped from this isolated, barren tree
despite the certainties of borrowed science,
and there have been years spent far from
the hospital and far from ironic promises
of a spring that never stops arriving,
each time to blossom and bear fruit against
familiar probabilities. No one saw the plum
tree come into full bloom this year;
even so, it remains our godly gift
to watch over it while each petal falls
and each tender leaf searches for its shape.





And when all was done then said,
it wasn't his flaws that caused
him to disappear.

Often enough he had willed that to be so,
wishing to become as insubstantial as
the bundled absence of all he lacked.

But as things turned out
it was a random strand of virtue
that rendered him invisible.

Ones who should have known better
tugged and teased that thread into prominence,
then magnified it beyond all meaning.

Old friends spoke of strength and courage.
New friends suspected him of gentle grace.
He insisted he stood falsely accused,

Offering his alibi to a myopic mirror
that, upon reflection, denied
any impression of him at all.



Blood Counts


In this polite place:
A hand trained in the ways
of death and delivery
cups a pill, slides a gurney,
shrink-wrapped, bubbling,
through sterile chambers
overfilled with hints
of salvation served
on sheets of steel.

Suffering is silent here:
Purple or black fishes dart
in diversionary circles
at the backs of smiling clerks,
when blood counts
don't add up.





If fifty thousand candles can be
the waxy, whispered remains of dead boys
in a cold, November rain,
then Kilby might wrap this night
in chords seized from an acoustic guitar,
as if melody waits unformed
somewhere near the Ellipse,
as if harmony can settle the score
and not swell unexpectedly
thirty years from now when a blood-red BMW
points up the 101,
purposeful enough.

If a drunk and stumbling bum can insist
against the 2 a.m. terrors of Arlington Cemetery
that we imbibe his history
and heft an icy, dented mortar shell
made slick by the Potomac mist,
then Salzmann might write a poem
to reduce or enlarge
this rainy night of America's soul,
as if cadences tried out on the Mall
can settle into lines
that won't overstay their welcome
and float back insistently
thirty years from now when promises and poems
are petals scratched from southern soils,
then gone.









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