Ballade of the Top When stuck, be wise and practice the art of sticking. Endure what must be endured. Arthritis. Yapping dogs. When heart or head is scarred, accept the healing offered. Though hard to be like the saints who roasted on a griddle while the executioners cheered, think long, feel deeply, say little. Are you a patient waiting to depart with an unspeakable diagnosis; a bird snagged in burdock, terminally hurt, your syrinx too broken to be heard; a street poet with a beggar’s beard, biting the tongue for fear your own hustle will con you into passing a bogus word? Think long, feel deeply, say little. The good life is a top maker’s art: joy and pain, deliberately blurred, revolve on one axis, not spheres apart. Spinning together through the world they cheer the heart-battered. Joy dances to the devil’s fiddle and do-si-dos with Jesus. Damned or raptured, think long, feel deeply, say little. From judgment and love you are not spared, nor from solving the ancient riddle— which are you: lamb redeemed or mutton slaughtered? Think long, feel deeply, say little.
Sheol It’s damp, but not from weather; half-dark, but not from night: like the blue-green jars in my cellar brimming with dust and dim light that wait for summer to fill their bellies with peaches bright as yolks pickled in vinegar and cloves, with red jellies, with honey from sourwood and thistle, I, too, wait in a twilit space emptied of what I was and said, of how I did and was done to. When will I be filled with grace and all the lonesome laid-out dead be summoned to come to?
J.S. Absher’s first full-length book, Mouth Work, won the 2015 Lena Shull Book Competition sponsored by the North Carolina Poetry Society and was published by St. Andrews University Press. More recently, he won the Clint Larson Poetry Prize from BYU Studies Quarterly. Previous chapbooks are Night Weather (Cynosura Press, 2010) and The Burial of Anyce Shepherd (Main Street Rag, 2006). His work has been published in approximately 50journals and anthologies, including Third Wednesday, Visions International, North Carolina Literary Review, Tar River Poetry, and Dialogue. He lives with his wife, Patti, in Raleigh, NC.