Five Poems by Jeffrey Alfier

Last Postcard from Kraków

The city moved with the fogged breath of strangers.

Cops swept the marketplace of foreign drunks.

 

A scuffle of wind stung the air with snow

and streetlights ran molten in windows of trams.

 

A worker’s handbill swore to no one I knew:

We will not be swindled, our names not taken down.

 

Thickets of vendors edged the cathedral.

Stray cats hunkered into themselves

 

like vagrants into coats. Along the river,

alder limbs were masts of shuttled ships

 

listing over ice that edges the shoreline.

A thick scent of coal burned everywhere.

 

A woman hurried a suitcase up the street.

I watched the falling snow glaze the dark.

First published in Permafrost 2018.

The View from Mostowa Street

I.

 

At the café window, the prospect of snow

seems endless. Clouds detour sunlight,

shadows work the walls of tenements.

At my feet, sacks of herring and black bread

that a spinster — fingerless gloves, smoke-yellow

nails, sold me in the marketplace.

Only one other patron here: a pensioner,

frowning at the evening paper

as if it were a love letter etched in vanishing ink.

 

II.

 

The waitress serves me wormwood liqueur,

binds back her autumn hair. Shirt cropped

at the ribs, she shows me the blue

sparrow tattooed on her hip, swears

it floats above her in her sleep.

Outside, the onset of heavy snow.

It angles off the boulevard, gets snared

in contrary winds. A woman races

into a doorway. A sliver of light escapes.

First published in The Stinging Fly 2018.

Return to Las Escobas Restaurante

. . . drink and eat, for God gives you His indulgent smile.

      Baudelaire, Abel and Cain

Midday, give or take an hour, and I’m back

in Sevilla from pre-dawn walks beyond

the river. Somewhere in those fields I lost

the names of wildflowers, names of all trees,

save the olive groves a farm woman owned

who’d loved me once in Almensilla.

 

Thirst-laden, I press parched lips to the chipped

edge of a glass of rebujito, knowing the white

sherry that swims through the mix will one day

burn a hole somewhere deep inside me.

 

My eyes shift to the pavement that funnels walkers

up from Puerta de Jerez. All week, storm clouds

have dimmed this street. But today they won’t find it,

furrowed by Andalusian sun, by the footsteps

of a merchant, his eyes lowered like a convict’s,

pushing a cart of iced calamares, finessing

his way around the growing crowds.

Enough daylight left to spend, I could drift back

to those fields I’d taken to in the early hours.

But perhaps I’ll linger here, far into moonrise,

gather sounds of longing in men’s voices singing

homeward. Or in my own voice, held so long that silence

feels like infidelity, like far-off fields that almost

turned their backs on me, vanishing into rain.

My Third July in Luna County

I’m still alive. Leaned up against a brake lathe,

rolling Zig Zags. The straw boss

shares papers at our auto shop.

But he’d take my hide if he knew I’d stolen tools.

Lord it’s hot as murder hereabouts.

Fire ants climb my coffee cup.

My lost dog doesn’t know

I ain’t got time to search him out.

By and by I’ll slip out of town

in a Cadillac the owner won’t claim

’til morning. Take my lover to a bar

down in Cotton City.

She’s on a first-name basis with the devil

and has warrants. Holes up out of town —

never you mind where.

Later in my room she’ll hotplate a batch

of mudfish with muscatel.

I’ll drop her back at Lordsburg Station

where gutterpunks slink between railcars.

They’ll beg a lift somewhere. I’ll flip them off.

Back home I’ll crack a window. Can’t afford a/c.

Wish I could rent someplace to cool off.

There’s one motel in town. Some stranger

will touch a face in a rented room.

No Man for the Mountain

                    for Jim Harrison

 

So this is how it is done, one switchback

then another. I’m still an hour or two

from base camp as I hear the rocky flow

of canyon waters like mumbled language.

 

When my middle-age knees pop with bone chips

I pray all cougars rest fat on mule deer.

But if big cats suffer the sight of me

they wouldn’t refuse a decrepit meal.

 

Hauling a rucksack with the latest gear,

I climb unwieldy as a horse-drawn war.

Friends bet I’d flag by Esperero Trail

waving heedless farewells to puzzled hikers.

 

The sun dims down to westering pastels.

Night. Coyote tongues wag over my tracks.

Something calls out with an alien speech;

could be my own voice echoing off stone.

 

Reaching base camp, I’m a fool’s hedge against

winds that would flog me threadbare. Come morning,

I’ll drift back down paths of gravel, lupine,

past dead cholla, out through a broken fence.

                                                Pusch Mountain Wilderness, Arizona

First published in Tonopah Review 2009.

 © Jeff Alfier