For Joe Haldeman
We mounted a force against Alpha Centauri,
cruising past Io, vanadium mist, the comet mines,
but when we arrived, a thousand years had passed,
no one remembered how negotiations broke down
over a garbled pronoun, how the engine of syntax
sealed shut and began to hum.
So we reduced a few villages,
slaughtered cattle, salted a field.
When we returned by a pinprick in darkness
we found ourselves in childhood,
creeping on the lino under stinging diapers.
In the dim window that star blazed
insidious as your missing pupil—
was it you we meant to conquer,
white page, you against whom
we raise our tower of blocks?
D. Nurkse’s recent books of poetry are A Night in Brooklyn, The Border Kingdom, and Burnt Island, from Knopf. He’s the recipient of a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A longterm human rights activist, he served an elected term on the board of Amnesty International-USA.
Feature image by Maik Wolf. Inner Space / Mausoleum 2 , 2011, oil on canvas.
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Michael Schultz
Click on the image to enlarge.