Back to Issue Thirty-One

Broken Sonnet: Ghost in the Window



                —Jean Renoir, to his cousin Gabrielle

Gabrielle, you hold a toy horse in front of my delighted gaze
in my father’s portrait of us. I was only a child,
but even then there were lessons—how to see the face
behind the mask at the Guignol puppet shows,
                                                                               the infinity in the tesserae of the tiled

floors in Montmartre’s white basilica. You taught me
that nothing is beyond film—
                                                    not the arthritis in my father’s fingers,
or the color of our forgetting,
                                                   not even the ninety-
nine names of God. And yet, I could never capture

the shadow behind my father in those last days,
when you had to ease the brush into his twisted fingers.
I am my failings. Now you are in a far country, beyond the ways
of light or voice—
                                  & yet, if I still see you—there—a shadow in the aperture,

o ghost in the window, is there a night unshirred by your dark?

Unfilmable one, is there a frame you do not watermark?



A Film for the End of the World



By the time white moths
lift off from dime-size clover—
bodies the size of those knots
tied by my mother

in vineyards by the thousands,
binding vines to wire guides
with March-freezed hands—
the last Eastern bobcat died.

If I in memory look upon
those tied acres, I see rows
of whole notes on a translucent
staff, I can hear a slow

song for the endlings, last
of their kind. If I trace the blurs
of the moths’ flight paths
I can almost see the rafters

of a tiny Cinema Paradiso—
hardly anyone remembers
its burning, years ago,
the air filled with the embers

of film strips, shreds of faces
drifting through town, a snow
like memory, delicate as the laces
on Pavlova’s pointe shoe.

Say there was another theater—
this one stocked with nothing
but reels of the extinct—set afire.
At last, a reckoning

of what we’ve done. A celluloid
rain of what we’ve lost,
a cloud of forgotten bodies,
like Francesca & Paolo’s

in the underworld, another
eternity. Tatters & ribbons
for our ghosts to put together,
late film for the Anthropocene.

I know my face will appear

someday on one of those singed
strips, when the cinder
of me, like a soul, takes wing,

untied moth at the wind’s whim—
what will my child learn of me
when she watches? Something
of grace, I hope, of mercy,

though of course not even our
endling will watch the entire thing—
it will roll on long after we’re
gone, a screening of our vanishing.



Broken Sonnet: Late Song



As when the air meets itself again
                                                           on the other side
of feathers falling from falling bodies
your hands appear in just the right position
                                                                          upon the keys.

Like learning to ride a bike, except across
a rope strung between the animal backs

of Nowhere & Longing. Sometimes a lack of thirst will cross us
like thirst. After the war, each time my grands were racked

by it, the hunger returned them to the years in which they went without.

My Beppe’s father a butcher forbidden to slaughter.
Once, she hid the heart of a sheep in her bed
during a Nazi raid. We buried them last year.

Against that dark, what light? I don’t know,
save the body our two bodies form, sure as sleep,
                                                                  in which we dream & fall like snow.


Mark Wagenaar is the author of three award-winning poetry collections, including the Saltman Prize-winning Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining, just released from Red Hen Press. His fiction and poetry appear widely, including in the New Yorker, Tin House, the Southern Review, Gulf Coast, the Cincinnati Review, 32 Poems, and River Styx, among many others. He is an assistant professor at Valparaiso University, a father of two, and the husband of poet Chelsea Wagenaar.

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