Issue 31 – 2020 – Bruce Bond

Patmos I


The radio at the end of time is playing a song in a room alone.

It is a New Year’s favorite about forgetting or not in the form

of a question. All these years have ended with a question.

All these questions with a room alone. I have had that dream.

And the sirens and smoke of the holy land scratched words

against a sky that ate them. And we all sang together, because

why not. Music brings a stranger closer. It is how, these many

years, we survived. In our rooms, alone, at the end of time.


Pages fall, wave over wave, and still the modern ocean

swells, every continent an island, every island small.

An eye shines with acid rain, and the blinding of the news

is hopeless. No end to interpretation, my friend said,

and he passed in his sleep like a reader-response theory

eaten by a tabloid. The headline reads, there is no end.

No place where poison drinks the word poison and dies.

No page that gives the light of the planet a place to fall.


However old the language, it is not dead. It is the child

in the doll, the Christ in a wafer, the ocean in the sleep

machine that turns slowly back to water. Say the word

salt, and it clarifies against you. I learned that from the sea

that gave us life. It gave us the word soul, from the Proto-

German saiwaz, the path souls travel before the world

and after. And when you speak, you feel their passing.

You hear them step across the phosphor and the hiss.


At the end of a phrase played with inquisitive touch,

with the tenderness that attention breeds, time swells.

Everything returns to nothing, and the nothing knows:

to write a better closure you need a bit of the future,

a lot of the lost. You need a friend’s coffin to rise

at the end of a novel you read, slow, and read again.

This will be your lifeboat, your avatar’s last hope,

borne up from the wreck that has no other answer.


Cheerful stories frighten me, the ones that say, go ahead,

lift all the sanctions. The sea will swallow all that ails you.

It will take your refusals, your shipwrecks, your refugees,

your sludge and poison bled from factories of the shore.

It was made for this, for mornings after, the shame of them,

the shamelessness to come. Every morning, the sea will

sob against your door. But rest assured. It will leave you.

It will leave at your mat the weeds and refuse of the deep.


No end to interpretation, my friend said, and then,

he died. Passed on, said his brother at the service.

I too avoided the word that had in it so little room

or far too much. What do I know of a thing that is

all too certain. Words have no other side, my friend

would say. He says it still, and I ask, do we dream

in obscurities to protect the mind, or to create it.

For the ones you lost, what language would you choose.


What the end of this tune needs is a silence to accept it.

It needs a box marked handle with care, and a voice to say,

here, without saying it precisely. Today I felt the first snow

falling in my hair. I felt a younger self step out of my body

beneath the dark towers of the pines. And together we stared

into the fire, transfixed. Whatever our burden, the light would

bring us closer. Light devoured light. Grief, grief. Whosever

ashes these, they feathered upward into heaven. With the snow.


If I was the rope, she was the bell, and together we would toll

until the bronze fell back in its tower, but the flash and stutter

travelled on, and I could hear, as she lay her head beside me,

flushed and breathing, a siren in the distance, the rise and fall

into a silent chamber. In truth, only the idea of it was silent,

only its proximity to noise. The world is always larger than it is.

And smaller. Ask the fly at the window, the bored child,

the steeple’s needle, the bell. Just like a fly to fall for a window.


Whenever arrival would justify the journey, I am lost,

free to make a better story, a better end. And I know

someday a wind will blow the sand-mandala of our planet.

The sea will lift into the sky and take with it its mirror.

But I will cherish my diminished repertoire of choices.

I will write the future, dear love, I miss you, and a long

night will settle over the paper. I will stare into whatever

light remains, somewhere in the middle we call an end.


Patmos II


Once there was a mother who took her children each

Sunday to the sea and never swam. Her hair was perfect.

As time is when it stiffens, or a heaven without animals.

An ocean turned breathless, and so you walk across.

Perfect, from the old French parfit for completed.

A good life was full of endings, and you could find them

in the small and beautiful boxes at the foot of her bed.

You could open and close and open forever, like the tide.


As a child, I read the sky at night. It was full of nothing

and fires nailed to nothingness, so long as I could see.

Light archival and wordless still. And I was headed there,

beyond the bear, the twin, the stories told to children in

the woods. I felt nervous, boundless, awed. The world

beyond constellation took on the shade of black known

only to interior spaces. Call it faith. Or utter lack of faith.

I, a child, did not know the difference. I am a child still.


When a father leaves, the sea becomes a sky laid low.

On a far horizon, the incognitas of the ancient world.

And you sail toward the edge where the water pours.

When a father dies, the earth’s edge is a cataract of stars.

Why the ocean never empties is anyone’s guess.

But if you look hard, you might see a blur on the floor.

If you lean over the water, you see a body, a face,

beneath the fathoms pinned by starlight to the eye.


When I was young, my Lord was clear as consciousness.

And so he slipped in and out of our ears, our mouths.

He was a part of each, the sum of every, of time no less,

its body and its angel, and so I named him the long view

for whom we have no name. Bewildering, as music is,

as I watched my father open a book of hymns and sing

of a god he never spoke of, his breath drawn through a place

I never knew. But from the distance of a song, I heard.


I live so close to the funeral home, I hear the sad favorites

on the Hammond organ. The music for one voice or none.

The glass of the heart wrapped in cotton. Silence so misses

another silence, you could hear them as one and never know.

There is a mercy in that. The minimal grace of bewildered spaces.

Every Sunday, the black limousine gets soaped and polished.

I have watched them with their rags without knowing I am

watching. The jewel of the neighborhood, its headlights burning.


If, as you leave the scene of the accident, you feel heavy-

limbed, light-headed, more than shattered, less than numb,

take heart. The crumpled hood huffing steam on the cliff

will be your angel. It will stare transfixed across the guardrail.

Wind will lean into your ear and whisper, a body in motion

stays in motion. And the road from here will be more deadly

and sublime. You will lie back down in the snow and wait

for the pain to arrive, for the medic’s light to search your eyes.


My father looked all night for the story of his bloodline.

It gave him a consolation of ghosts in the shapes of trees.

Every branch a mother, every leaf a child among the others

beneath a tree. Heaven was an earth, and earth the sum

total of every dawn. And so it never died. We planted

a tree in his memory. It is larger now, though the plaque

with his name on it is smaller. Every fall, the leaves drift over,

scatter. Every time I kneel to read, the leaves fall through.


I felt compelled to choose, to pledge allegiance to the wall.

I was told, fear God because he loved me. Love my father,

and so I felt afraid. Death was a small object in the distance.

Like me, beneath a desk. Looking down at the floor, I felt

compelled to choose. Earth or life on the surface. I know.

I would always have a name, a small object in the distance.

But who survives to read it. When the missiles fall, who will

ask the question. Where does heaven go when heaven dies.


If not heaven, why not this. Why not paradise as the meal

between us, the story you are telling, how you and I would make

it mine. Why not the night your father carried you, asleep,

from the Hollywood Bowl to the car. Or was that your dream

on the long ride home. It’s all talk now, and the deeper we go,

the more the talk gets quiet, small, as if, with eyes of the sleepless,

we are entering the bedroom of a child, and you say, I buried

my father in his works on earth. And I whisper, me too, me too.


Bruce Bond is the author of twenty-three books including, most recently Blackout Starlight: New and Selected Poems 1997-2015 (E. Phillabaum Award, LSU, 2017), Rise and Fall of the Lesser Sun Gods (Elixir Book Prize, Elixir Press, 2018), Frankenstein’s Children (Lost Horse, 2018), Dear Reader (Parlor Press, 2018), Plurality and the Poetics of Self (Palgrave, 2019), Words Written Against the Walls of the City (LSU, 2019), and The Calling (Parlor Press, 2020). Presently he is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas.