Nick Rattner

Hesitation

In the L.A. River, islands begin

with single trees, so I lie

in one’s shade to feel

the shadow of beginning.

Under me, roots hold

in their lungs the river,

while my hand rests

on a stone, taking its pulse.

When I stand, my steps

startle ducks, and the order of

shoes enters the order

of wings, enters the

order of sky. Then mallards

return to mind the eggs

they’ve hidden in coyote

brush and blue elder,

and with tattered blue tarps

they mend their nests, threading

the world’s new sleep.

I walk through plastic blues,

dwarf nettle, golden currant,

and hemlock, a lazy saunter

toward translucence, layered

as the haze, maybe. If all

seeing is to be seen back,

I want to see beginning.

I see glinting metal tags

around a dog’s neck,

a shepherd beached

on an otter dam,

his flank rich enough

with blowfly songs to rival

rush hour’s coruscation.

Hunting Season

From woods

where he’d tried

training his black lab

to retrieve ducks

he imagined shooting,

he arrives in a blue,

boxy Ford Bronco.

He wears Lee jeans

and a T-shirt advertising

his flag business, slams

the front screen door,

keeps me quiet

on the couch while

he shouts into the face

of the dog whose fur

the river made shine.

See what I have learned?

He hands me a beer

so cold it softens

the sun, which is setting

behind the lawn chairs,

as if through a day-long rage

it had learned a cold

and forgetting tenderness.

The last of an afternoon

pulls itself on its elbows

through grass the town

can’t afford to cut.

On a flannel couch,

he passes out. TV muted,

two ball players round

the diamond. In the same

silence, a crowd stands,

humiliated by its inability

to roar. I spread

a goose-down comforter

over him. I gaze into

the hollow of his throat.

See what I have learned?

Even in slumber, we imagine

applause on our skin.

Even inside, we are outside.

Or maybe it’s the other way.

We hunt in cut grass,

snouts and tails cloaked

by cathodes. Maybe

we never go anywhere

but rather wait, open-mouthed,

like blue cellar doors,

papered by rust.

Nick Rattner lives in Houston, Texas. Recent work can be found in Columbia Poetry Review, Grist, Puerto del Sol, Asymptote, Exchanges, and InTranslation. With Marta del Pozo, he has translated the work of poets Yván Yauri and Czar Gutiérrez. At present, he is translating the work of Spanish poet Juan Andrés García Román and Mexican writer Salvador Elizondo.

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