by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review
Second Place (tie), June 2010
Judged by Fiona Sampson

Ah sun-flower! weary of time—
                     William Blake

I started to tell you about the friend
who was in trouble, how the oily rum
had stained the sheets where they slept, how

he’s in a wheelchair now, unable to care
for himself, basic things, things American
couples talk about freely. At the seminar,

finding out about the Blakes reading Paradise
Lost while naked, one bold slash after the other
of ink—I don’t know enough about Tygers

and burning or sunflowers to move on, compare
our lives to theirs. Michael, so many stories
of nothing, the days I walk without you, holding

your hand. Today, trudging through the park
with Elaine, I remembered all that heat roaring
down my neck, the kids taunting me at the bus,

my mom out, again, still—shrilly making everyone
know there was trouble in the house. There was
a smell, she said, an animal has just lumbered

through, feral, in pain, not in heat. He was leaving
behind a warning, something was about to go wrong.
Those gnats and the ones we couldn’t slap,

the no-see-em hours, those were the ones that take
us down. Later I insisted, holding your hand, “Nothing,
it’s nothing.” And you with your calm eyes watching

said “there’s a weasel on the property. Sleek
and plucky, handsome, you’ll like it, they are not as you’ve
been told.” I didn’t want to tell you about the day, to spoil

the summer sunflowers you had just planted, bring
up the wasting and night sweats that had descended
on their bed. I don’t want to admit that I want

to die first, to be the trouble and not the teller of it,
the spiller of secret ink, I simply nodded, and touched
your hand whispering: “Please be careful of it.”

This starts so well; it just gets a bit clotted with judgmental register around stanza 6 (and 5). And a little too much is meaningfully left unsaid – these sound like storybook AIDS symptoms, but the stakes are no longer as they were in the 1990s, in the West… But elegant and thoughtful and a very interesting synthesis of the two strands, none the less. --Fiona Sampson