by Cynthia Neely
Desert Moon Review
Honorable Mention, March 2012
Judged by John Timpane

The fog is in. We button coats against
the dank, and that which we don’t know

rises and parts, sets in again. Frost
would have us choose a road, mend a wall.

But we’d work too hard at it, digging up
old poems, pick and shovel, body

and soul, trombones moaning
like Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street,

instead of here, where we sit tonight
beneath these wind-crippled pines, no road,

no wall to choose or mend; instead, we tend
our wine, sip our liquor, lick our wounds,

like salted margaritas, limed green
as luna moths whose caterpillars soon

will spin cocoons, while days diminish,
nights lengthen, cryptic as years.

Could it be a mistake? What difference
would one road make?

As a reader, I can take a poem any way that suits me, and it suits me to treat this quizzical, smart effort as if it were an ars poetica of a sort. The art of writing (or maybe of being) entails choosing, or avoiding the choice of, a road that literally does not exist, making a choice one can’t see or know, existing in “that which we don’t know.” Choice itself is a hazard; it can be a bad choice; one can try too hard. I have no idea what the “it” in the penultimate line actually is, not that it’s legitimate to ask that at all. But it does sort of attach to the floating topic of choosing a way. I like the way metaphor and simile bear us away from recognizable referents, often by starting as clichés then going someplace unexpected: we “lick our wounds,// like salted margaritas, limed green/ as luna moths whose caterpillars soon// will spin cocoons.” The wounds we (already metaphorically) lick are like margaritas, which are as green as moths, and so on. The speaker, and his associates/friends, the “we” sitting beneath “these wind-crippled pines,” do nothing but sit and lick. Maybe that’s the “it” that could or could not be a mistake. And I do like the last attempt to blow the whole road/wall thing out of the water, with the last who-cares question. A poem that began with echoes of Sandberg and Frost ends cocooned in underminings. Very nicely done. ---John Timpane