June 14, 2012 by The Citron Review
by John Palen
Arriving at the Age of Reason
You do nothing in eighth-grade study hall
but listen to the hiss of steam in pipes
and gaze through streaky panes
at clapboard houses, stubble fields.
Across the street a woman
rakes leaves. You know her, she’s the mother
of a friend. You know their house,
its worn linoleum and shadowy rooms.
She wears a thin scarf, an Army coat
unbuttoned to the wind. Leaning far out
into scattering leaves, she slaps the rake
on a handful and pulls them roughly in,
as if to gather everything defeated in that town
into one place so something can be done.
When she looks up, unguarded eyes above
high cheekbones, she’s looking straight at you.
Of course you’ll write about the rain.
You have to.
It crowds everything else off,
changes all plans.
Things you’d do without even thinking
you can’t do in the rain–
bike to the store for milk,
bag the leaves you raked yesterday
and left in piles in the yard.
The rain takes away their weightlessness,
beats them down into low, wet mounds.
If you don’t do anything they’ll mat on the grass
and snow will cover them . . .
All these plans and worries.
And the rain.
John Palen’s poetry has appeared in literary journals for more than 40 years, including Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, The Formalist, Kansas Quarterly, and Passages North, and in anthologies published by Milkweed Editions and Wayne State University Press. He was a finalist in the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Competition in 1995 and a Pushcart nominee in 2003. His Open Communion: New and Selected Poems was published in 2005 by Mayapple Press. Palen’s chapbooks have been published by March Street Press and Pudding House, and his poetry and short fiction have appeared recently in Sleet, Press 1, Gulf Stream, Prick of the Spindle, Poydras Review, Jelly Bucket and elsewhere. His first collection of flash fiction, Small Economies, was published by Mayapple in January 2012.