, , ,

From the Summer, 2014 Issue of The Antioch Review


by Joshua McKinney

The arbor’s splendid 
vassalage rends the morning air. 
I believe in pieces that perhaps 
the only revolt is death. 

Here I sit broken-hearted under the blooms.
I have coffee and a stack of student poems.	
I own an iron deck-chair wet with dew.
If I did not know 
better, I would swear bird song rose 
from the little Victrolas 
covering the garden arch. 
Their brilliance hurts

my eyes, but I know better. And what am I
to call their color? “Heavenly Blue” the seed packet said.
In Japanese, Morning Glory is Asagao: 
asa (morning) kao (face), 

and in her opening stanza, 
a church bell ceases yet tolls the disappearance 
of a girl’s grandsire 
who fought the tiny sword men on the islands, 
who smoked bees from wooden boxes
while he smoked himself to death. 
I arose and went to the mountain,
but the glade was silent,
the glacier gone, the meadow sere.
And round about the woods were strewn
with the pale blooms of ass-wipe, unburied 
by those who also sought the wilderness.
Now the poem’s speaker—whom one must not assume is 
the author—is crying

missing the man she called “Pops” with his bees
and his Bull Durham

telling how his bee boxes have fallen “into disrepair,”
almost hidden in the “grass like green hair”

leaning like abandoned barns
in the field near the apple orchard where the crop grows smaller every year.
Now is the augury of late migration,
of empty hives, of early pupae
twitching in the brackish pool
behind my neighbor’s foreclosed home.
There is a man I would like to know
better, a man who trekked in sun-dry deserts
with a backpack full of poems, 
tracing the sinusoidal track of crotalus 
in the graven silence of sand. 

He still writes letters in beautiful script
on lovely paper, and in a letter I did not write 
I told him of the night I knelt
to fuel my Stihl in the dank soil of a fire line, 
told him how I watched the terrible and ravenous light 
crawl down the ridgeline, told how
I saw old growth in flame immured, charred 
trunks horrent upon the horizon’s bare convex. Told how

I thought it intimation of the end.
Her trouble (as I’ve told her) is telling:

	She remembers his tenderness
        when she tastes honey from a plastic bear
	how no sweetness can compare 
        to what he’d spread on bread for her at lunchtime

        with calloused hands she loved to hold.
        And how she misses the bees

        that like her granddad won’t come back.
A mercury-risen day, and now I see 
the tiny trumpets have withered, 
their blue apertures twisted shut
and from the kitchen window my son asks, 

          If tuna is contaminated 
    	       with mercury, 
    	       what happens 
  	    if you microwave 
 	    a tuna sandwich . . .

           Does it explode?
My son, have you considered how 
         you will live in a world 
                without tigers? 

And have you seen any bees lately? O
         vigorous disappearances

Out of nowhere

now here in the poem
the girl has grown,
and now the poem
in the girl has grown,
and now the girl in
the poem has grown,

in me and now 
under pretence of teaching
I must write something 
in response. Dissembled and furthering,
the shadow of a my hand
veers dark and mutant over the page:

Will you learn 
to live without? or 
Will you know better? or 
Please, do not close your morning face? or
perhaps, (though I know better)

Dear Student, named for a flower, 
how I love this terrible poem 
about your grandfather’s bees.


JoshuaJoshua McKinney is the author of three books of poetry: Saunter, co-winner of the University of Georgia Press Open Competition; The Novice Mourner, recipient of the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize from Bear Star Press; and Mad Cursive. His work has appeared in journals such as American Letters & Commentary, American Literary Review, The Antioch Review, Boulevard, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, The Kenyon Review, New American Writing, and many others. Other awards include the Dickinson Prize and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing. With Tim Kahl he co-edits the online poetry journal, Clade Song. He teaches literature and creative writing at California State University, Sacramento.

© The Antioch Review, 2014