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?

Author Image

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.

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