In the Bad Days
I am writing to you
I am writing to you from deep in the bad days,
hoping you will hear me
hoping you will hear me wherever you are,
far away in a better time
In a better time,
In a better time, hoping you will hear me,
far away, wherever you are:
I came upon a heron
I came upon a heron late at night,
deep in these bad days.
Late tonight, deep in our bad days,
he plucked a frog from the waterfilled ditch.
His eye was black glass. I am writing
to you, wherever you are
late in my bad days.
late in my bad days. The frog's neck
was broken, so its legs dangled.
The heron eyed me
The heron eyed me blackly
from the wet ditch.
from the wet ditch. I am writing to you
from deep in the black days.
from deep in the black days. The dead
dangled. I watched from the sidewalk.
The heron's glass eye
The heron's glass eye eyed me
in the streetlight's glare.
in the streetlight's glare. Wherever you are
in a better time:
people were dying.
people were dying. I am writing to tell you
people are dying.
people are dying. Remember that
while you tie your shoes
to go for your walk
to go for your walk through the song-filled
night, through the beautiful night
of another time.
In This Way
There probably was a Trojan war,
a skirmish between small
rival towns, but we only receive
its echoes in literature. Facts about the battle
are obscure, endlessly transformed
by the Greek tragedians.
by the Greek tragedians. In this way,
the war lives
the war lives deep in history,
by stories. In this way
a virus hides in an urban
population, replicating itself before
breaking through. At first we should avoid
crowds, we should wash
crowds, we should wash our hands. In this way
the virus is an ancient story
changing itself all the time
changing itself all the time to suit its environment,
it is a dynamic story
it is a dynamic story evolving to suit the genetic
complexities of its audience. In this way,
The Trojan War
lives deep in the cells of Greek literature,
and is also
and is also transformative,
and is also transformative, so now
we are closing our schools,
we are shutting down
we are shutting down the theater district.
In this way, crowds and transmission
In this way, crowds and transmission the problem
with the metaphor implicit in this poem
is that the germ
is that the germ of the Trojan War
helped the Greeks understand themselves,
and has helped me understand them,
and has helped me understand them, no matter
that the battle itself remains forever
that the battle itself remains forever of small
geographical importance. A virus in the population
among, let's face it,
among, let's face it, people I love
will emerge to a vastly different result.
In this way, the germ of memory is not an actual
germ. In this way, the nurses
who might, for instance, tend to you
will adjust their masks
will adjust their masks before they enter
your room. "How are we doing today?"
they'll ask, though they know
they'll ask, though they know you are dying.
"Doing the best we can," I'm thinking,
"Doing the best we can," I'm thinking, here in the past,
looking out my window
looking out my window onto the darkened street.
Kevin Prufer's newest book, How He Loved Them (Four Way Books, 2018) won the Julie Suk Award and was longlisted for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize. His next book, The Art of Fiction, is forthcoming in 2021. He lives in Houston, where he is teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston and co-directs The Unsung Masters Series (www.unsungmasters.org), a book series devoted to bringing great, largely forgotten authors to new generations of readers.
"In the Bad Days" was first published by Waxwing at waxwingmag.org. "In This Way" was first published by Lily Poetry Press.