Issue > Poetry
Gregory Djanikian

Gregory Djanikian

Gregory Djanikian is the author of five collections of poetry, the latest of which is So I Will Till the Ground (Carnegie Mellon, 2007). He directs the creative writing program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Anger

Wherever there's a raucousness of birds,
     there may be someone below
almost wishing to pitch stones
  at wing and beak,

the mind sometimes
     of two minds, combative,
propitiatory, arrows  
  pointing in unlike directions.

A man sitting in a park by himself
     talking too loudly  
as if to an antagonist
  might startle himself with so much rancor    

his body will pull back, his words
     disarm themselves into a hum.  
Some moments require a gentling
  of heart, an exhalation,

from the French, vent, for wind,
     to pour out, to issue forth
after the first sharp grip
  of compression.

To pick up a knife is often
     to make too much of a point.
To cock the hammer of a gun is to give
  the finger more license than it deserves.

All those birds that might be singing
     in spite of anyone's ill will.
When happiness comes, it, too, comes
  with a mouth, as an utterance, spills.

Arizona Ranch

My wife is standing by the Palomino
in her chaps and cowboy boots
holding the reins in her teeth
while she tightens the cinch.

She likes to ride, likes the feel
of a corral when it's crowded and dusty,
likes a horse to know what it's doing
when it's cutting cattle.

Yesterday, a Brahman bull
broke her arm against the squeeze chute,
turned it purple like the sky
that sometimes lours above the Chiricahuas.

There isn't much high ground for reproaching.
Out here, coyotes prey on the calves
still in their birthing sacs.    
Out here, a steer goes to the bone yard
at the end of a chain and a pickup.

She'll be checking water troughs and pipes,
riding several hours around arroyos,
up stony ridges where the footing is tricky
and the fall is steeper than the climb.

Sometimes it's late when she comes home
and what look like houselights a mile away
are stars on the horizon, that kind of dark.

It's the fearlessness I like, or the way
she's open to the fear she has,
picking her way clear maybe to something
there're no words for, but it's there  
in the land sloping away beyond fence lines,
subliming into larger silences.

It's hard country to live close to
without some luck and sure-footedness
and maybe the wind at your back.

She'll be gone most of the day
riding through snake grass and sacaton
closer to her life perhaps
for all that can take it away.

I'll be listening, later, for hoof beats
on the pathway, whinnying from the barn
and the metal door clanging shut
that says the day has finally been unsaddled.

Until then, may lightning strike twice
wherever she isn't.  
May she take the shortest distance
through bull pasture and thorn field.
May she find all the right gates
unlocked and swung wide.

Free Love, 1968

The decade was getting naked,
poets were singing the book of the body,
the times were unfurling  

and we were unzipping our dresses
and pants, unhooking our bras, it was free
we thought, and maybe it was love,

no obligations, requitals,
because the revolution was coming  
as surely as the riots had come,

the dark assassinations,
and looming around the corner
a one-way ticket to Saigon.

We were George and Abby,
Martha and Thomas, names as blue
as the blood that spawned them

but we were also Raul and Frankie,
Antoinette and Maria, all of us
making love, what better way

not to make war. We were taking
the pill and maybe the drugs, we were
trying to float above the cataclysms,

the history we heard
like a buzz telling us
not to repeat but make it new.

We thought we were seizing the day,
hellos, goodbyes, it was all the same,
every encounter erasing another,

and what we might have been doing
was maybe teaching the heart
the delinquency of our hands, our lips,

touching each other but almost
as though we had never met
and it would take years

for those of us who were lucky
to feel the body on our fingertips again,
to say love and know the difficulty

of its being said, love free
maybe of any assurance, for as long as it lasted,
but love itself, without exemption.

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