Vessel

No one can insure candlelight; its flame
Precisely burns in flickering waves of gas,
Ingesting oxygen while fibers pass
Through burning into soot, and feel no shame.
A stroke of pen or brush behaves the same
When we regard them steadily: the mass
Remains inert like painted prairie grass
Until it fuels this fire of ancient fame.
Pens scratch across the page, and words cross lips;
Pigments blend oil and water into shapes
Deeper than canvas warrants; all of these
Transmute us, act to act: as window drapes,
Hung flowing like her skirt on windy seas,
Carry us off to see horizons slip.

 

Mao’s Garden

To pacify the peaceful, someone paid
(Unspeakable, lamentable, in fear)
Rough souls to make the flowers bloom each year:
To pry, to prune, to peddle what we’ve made.
On bicycles, in taxicabs, they raid
Each last enduring spring of human cheer
And, scoffing at the things we most revere,
Subject us to the plans bookkeepers made.
Accountants in the red, and we in black,
Adjust the sullen calculus of loss;
We mourn our wrongs, they calculate the price,
Adjusting costs to bring bad goods across:
As though morality were cards and dice;
As though neutrality could bring them back.

 

Riddle

Often on tables,
Never a leaf;
At your command,
I will eat beef;
Set me down flat,
Roll me aside,
Drown me at last, and then
Send me to hide.

 

[a pot]

 

Peter G. Epps is a professor of humanities at Oklahoma State University.

Featured Image: “Sunrise on the Bay of Fundy” by William Bradford (1823-1892).


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