Parable of the Empty Jar
A certain woman carried a jar full of milled grain. While she was walking on the road, still some distance from home, one of the handles of the jar broke and the grain emptied out behind her on the road. When she reached her house, she set the jar down and found it empty. As she set out again to fill the broken jar, she noticed a flock of birds lined all along the road feeding. From her house to the mill where she had purchased the grain, one bird after another took flight before her footsteps. “I’ve never seen birds feed with such a hunger,” she said to the miller as he refilled her jar and took her coins. “A cold winter must be coming,” he said, “As cold as hell.” “I thought hell was a fiery pit,” she said. “It is,” he replied, “but we feel it as ice to our marrow. Imagine how it would be for a bird which is hollow-boned.” As she walked home, the grain spilled and one bird after another landed behind her to feed. When she reached her house, she set the jar down and found it empty. There was no wood in the stove, no oil in the lamp. The cupboards held only dust. “A cold winter, indeed,” she said as she started down the road to the mill, this time wrapped in a shawl, and the flock twisted up before her like a pillar of smoke.
Tableau from the Last Days
Oxcarts haul the plague-stricken to the outskirts. What light remains is pitted against the murk, coruscates on sores and suppurations. In a city of funerals, church bells clang, erase the hours. Clouds writhe like a brazen serpent. Oxen kick up dust. Each pile of dirt fits the dug hole beside it. The not-yet-sick stand in line to be measured for caskets, although lumber is in short supply and the carpenter’s son is stacked there on the cart. If the driver falls ill, the ox, it seems, knows the way.
How to Make Love to Someone You Do Not Love
Say your lover’s name over and over again as if an incantation. Say the name until it loses all meaning, until all you hear are plosives, liquids, and aspirations. Keep in mind that lovemaking like a poem is an ephemeral exploration. If you find yourself tempted by affection, think: O, the tedious repetitions of the avant-garde! O, the endless integers for which the variable n is a stand-in. Recall, if you must, the root meaning of autopsy: autoa(self) + opsis (to see)—that is, to see the self, to decipher the self, to render the self. See your lover as you see yourself: fuel for the fire, a mere spark in a conflagration. A kiss will betray your insincerity, so kiss at your own risk. If you find yourself distracted think: O, quiet of ruins. O, cool of the evening. O, the twin gazelles of her breasts.
Eric Pankey is the author of nine collections of poetry, most recently Trace (Milkweed Editions 2013). Two new books are forthcoming: Dismantling the Angel, which won the New Measures Prize and will be published by Free Verse Editions in the fall and Crow-Work, forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2015.