A man with a telephone falls from the sky. I fall
after him, all through the night above the bright
edge of the eastern seaboard and the black plane
of the Atlantic. I see cloudbanks below lit orange
like some arid shore where ships make landfall
time zones away from me. I look up the number
of the falling man on my list of recent calls as I free
fall through the still-clear dark. He picks up
after three rings on my end, on his end maybe four.
He begins with apologies for being on the other line
when I tried to contact him. His voice still sounds
distracted as if half listening to that other voice
half speaking to that other ear neither of us can see.
Our conversation falls, as distracted ones fall
into territories unforeseen. We speak for hours
on ancient themes that he knows better than I.
Ashamed, I admit Pegasus makes me think
of Mobile Oil, of a red winged horse on a field
of white enamel, of seas sluggish with crude.
I admit I know Bellerophon only through one book
and then only because I had to read that book
during my college years before other long years
journeying home. He asks me, a bit too softly
under the force of night air rushing past
my unencumbered ear, “Can you be content
on the course your life follows?” After taking
a few moments to compose myself, a few moments
with both of us listening to static close in one ear
and the feathered sound of falling in the other
I reply, “Until you asked, I felt left behind by heroes
always off on their journeys.” We hang there
suspended by data streaming between our ears
through a satellite’s block and tackle far above.
At last, as if he is straining against some heavy
unexpected weight, he says
Matt Daly’s poetry appears in Clerestory, The Cortland Review, Pilgrimage, and elsewhere. He is the author of Wild Nature and the Human Spirit: a Field Guide to Journal Writing in Nature and has published short fiction and essays in publications including: To Everything On Earth, Wyoming Fence Lines and Stories of the Wild. In 2013, he received a creative writing fellowship in poetry from the Wyoming Arts Council.
My Date with the Laureate
Took place at a little café on a pedestrian street someplace
other than Paris or Rome. The Laureate wore trousers
that showed signs of wear around the knees as if from travel
the way blue in the sky fades a little toward the bright hole
of the sun. We took turns ordering espressos and bottles
of mineral water, neither of us offering to pay for the other.
We could have made the line move a little more quickly
if we had done this together but the black-haired woman
behind the counter appeared unbothered that we did not do so.
I ordered a bagel, which I thought must be an ugly word
in most languages. I told the Laureate I was thinking this
about bagel but could not tell if he agreed or was just immune
to such pronouncements from men such as me. A mustache
like his, I thought, hides subtleties in the way a man’s mouth
curves and I reconsidered growing my own. I asked the woman
whom I should have thought of as a barista but did not, if she
had any plum preserves. Barista, to my ear, is an attractive
word. Nothing on her face hid her annoyance as she dug
unsuccessfully, through the jam packets in their wicker basket
I could have just as easily dug through myself but did not.
Plum preserves would have tasted good while the Laureate
and I bantered, one topic then another. We discussed
anatomical differences between ravens and crows, agreeing
the former are both more beautiful and more ominous
than the latter. We agreed we were thankful to live around them
all the rough noises they make back in the depths of their ruffled
throats. I felt obligated to speak of their cousin, the magpie.
The Laureate seemed to humor me in thinking that my relationship
with the magpie was more complicated than with any other bird.
The barista gathered cups from a table adjacent to ours
their even whiteness marred slightly by little rings of dried
milk foam. We agreed that flocks of starlings, undulating
in wind-born formations, are beautiful even if the individual
birds are not. Cups clinked together in their grey tub as the black-
haired barista moved away. Date is not the best word for this
excursion. The Laureate was not even there with me
in the bagel shop with my white cup of espresso, my two
glass bottles of sparkling water, one clear, the other blue.
Because the barista was no longer paying me any mind
I felt none of the usual hesitation in whispering to him
that sometimes I went to one of his books like a church,
some church with more than merely formal differences
from that first church I ever visited on that Boy Scout field trip
back when black birds were still just something to shoot at
with a pellet gun, coffee something adults enjoyed in a way
I did not understand. I whispered to him that sometimes
poems like his made me want to act less like some barrister
pushing my powdered locks off the collar of my black robes
shimmering under a morning sky not yet free of the deep
blue of dawn and night’s old rainclouds. Each poem is a bird
he whispered, while outside some leaves flew into the air.