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3 Timeless Poems by Jared Carter

With Mourning Doves

Kennst du das Land, wo die Citronen blühn?
                                               – Goethe

With mourning doves, to seek to understand
Their moment, like a touch upon your hand
          left by a stranger, matters not, since all
          depends upon your answering. Their calls
Are lost among the wind’s devolving strands.

Sometimes in dreams I find a place to stand
Among the shadows, deep within that land
          of trees with lemons filled, and limestone walls
                    with mourning doves.

Against that wind, how can their countermands
Have resonance? And how can such demands,
          almost intangible as sleep, enthrall?
          With syllables that never quite forestall
The stillness. Neither message nor commands
                    with mourning doves.

First published in Trinacria.


To improvise, first let your fingers stray
across the keys like travelers in snow:
each time you start, expect to lose your way.

You’ll find no staff to lean on, none to play
among the drifts the wind has left in rows.
To improvise, first let your fingers stray

beyond the path. Give up the need to say
which way is right, or what the dark stones show;
each time you start, expect to lose your way.

And what the stillness keeps, do not betray;
the one who listens is the one who knows.
To improvise, first let your fingers stray;

out over emptiness is where things weigh
the least. Go there, believe a current flows
each time you start: expect to lose your way

Risk is the pilgrimage that cannot stay;
the keys grow silent in their smooth repose.
To improvise, first let your fingers stray.
Each time you start, expect to lose your way.


From Les Barricades Mystérieuses. First published in Poetry.
Copyright © 1987, 1999 by the Modern Poetry Association

The Believers

Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, at the winter solstice.

These are the old dreads whispering to me
through the slant light of the meeting hall
this wintry afternoon. Mother Ann Lee
is here, raising a splintery hand to call
for lines to form between the facing walls
and dance the figures that can bring to pass
a momentary clearing of the darkened glass.

A blaze of dying sun brings out the grain
across the wooden floor. Outside this space
their bodies could not touch, nor long remain
together, else some elder’s wrinkled face
shone down, from its high watching place,
and shamed them. Here, desire slipped its rein,
the better to be harnessed on a higher plane.

To save by giving what one cannot keep –
mortal to dance, and by such whirling come
into immortal worlds – while others sleep,
to waken from the body's dark mysterium –
these were the steps she taught. And once begun,
there was no turning back, no way to slake
this thirst for otherness except to shake.

And as a tree in winter fills with crows
convened out of some harsh necessity
till every branch is bent and overflows
into a mirroring of what one sees
in summer – creatures become leaves,
all turning, turning in a dark repose –
so did they circle here, and come in close

until they flowered, and it was summer now,
by Shawnee Run, near the stone landing,
where fireflies had filled a sycamore
with single light, and all who saw, standing
along the shore, knew a sure commanding
in that pulse, and walked there, bright
and dark by turns, in the summer night.

None of that charmed singing in the air
above their heads has lasted, nothing remains
of what it meant to dance the hollow square,
to walk the narrow path, the endless chain.
Not even the sun’s slow march explains –
here, they kept time simply by the swing
of a lead bullet fastened to a string.

The guided tour moves on. I cross the floor
through triangles of light and shade, done
with imagining, yet pausing at the door
to look back on this room, and how the sun
reveals, for just a moment, what will come
when we are finally shaken, and by grace,
no longer darkly see, but face to face.


From After the Rain. First published in Cumberland Poetry Review.

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