About this poet

Mark Wagenaar is the author of Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining (Red Hen Press, 2018), winner of the 2016 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, and The Body Distances (A Hundred Blackbirds Rising), (University of Massachusetts Press, 2016). He teaches at Valparaiso University and lives in Valparaiso, Indiana. 

Meanwhile the elephants

have retired now that the circus
has closed, to their watercolors
& bowling leagues, their tusk-dug
rose gardens, their record collections,
their calligraphy—
                             say one has
begun a letter to you, peacock feather
gripped in the beautiful gray coils
of its trunk, & she dips it in the inkwell
& begins
              darling, I have my dead &
I have let them go
,

as the elephants walk thirty kilometers
to find the house of their keeper
who died last night, to keep a vigil,
an honor guard of fifteen-thousand-pound
bodies, they wait all night,

as she continues, the past is always
vanishing if we are good or careful
,

as the elephants nurse their young,
wrap their trunks when they greet each other,
trumpet when they hear Miles’s Kind of Blue,

what is eternity but the shadows
of everyone who has ever fallen
,

the languages of the dead are never more
than a breath away, darling
,

as the elephants are drawn & painted
by da Vinci, by Max Ernst,
are reincarnated as Buddha,

our mouths are incapable,
white violets cover the earth
,

remember the gates of Rome, linger
near pianos, near the bones & tusks of their own,

the greatest of the shadows are passing
from the earth, there was never a city brighter
than a burn pile of tusks
.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Wagenaar. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Wagenaar. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar is the author of Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining (Red Hen Press, 2018), winner of the 2016 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award.

by this poet

poem
IT'S A BRAND NEW DAY, the greasy spoon’s sign
has recited each day for the last ten years.

Eighteen-wheelers haul their hundred hands of empty space
through an air hallowed by the smoke of a thousand-acre grass fire.

New roads take on the shape of the old
the way rivers tongue the
poem
There’s no right word for the color of the ashes,
 
you said at the New Orleans hospice—
every week a new urn carried out
& poured into the nameless garden.
 
Maybe it’s true. And maybe,
just there through the fog,
this
poem
                —too many waltzes have ended . . .
                   – Wallace Stevens

It’s only when the stars
are lined above a burning
cathedral, charnel house

or theater, when the air
is filled with riffling ashes
that hallow a space where tragedy

& comedy are indistinguishable
that these