Three Poems by Jon Tribble

The Voice Outside

In the courtyard of these dingy apartments
with their fake Vieux Carré facades, a man
beats his love out of a gray locked door,
no tender intimations or supplication
in these poundings that sound all too practiced
in their rhythms—three bursts, a name barked
out like a command, silence, two bursts, silence.
He doesn’t care about time, about other
angry or sad or tired or lonely shadows
beginning to rise behind the white and beige
shades, ghost lights flickering, stumbling
to their blank windows to peer out into this
night that is now and forever entirely his,
palpable as the sharp edge of his teeth, his fist
possessing each hurt and budge the wood
won’t give. Inside, I hold my wife like sleep
could be shielded by one body ready to throw itself
down on a landmine, offering up breath and bone
to keep the blast at bay. She turns into me
and I try to calm my pulse, the shudder
touching me each time he renews his assault
on the thin walls which separate us all.


One of the cats licks the carpet,
tasting the hidden flavors of days
and nights in the knotty fibers,
while I read out loud a poem
of rapture and sorrow.  The cats’
owner wrote this poem and
she sends bright postcards
of the Alps where she and her
husband have only found rain,
cold and damp, diminishing
the Continent.  I cannot tell
if this gray and white and tan
cat recognizes any echo of
her owner’s voice as she rolls
back and forth exposing her
snowy soft belly.  Her sister
rests downstairs, though I’m
not sure if she sleeps—now
or ever—her yellow eyes
seeming always to squint
slightly open.  She does
visit me at night as I lie down
and she climbs across my shoulder,
plants herself in the crook
of my left arm, an alert weight
holding each shuddering
breath still, anchoring the body’s
drift through sleep and dreams
of ancient blue mountains
tumbling back to earth, filling
the valleys with crushing waves
of stone and ice, a rumbling
avalanche waking me as sirens
pass in the dark street.  With her
white paws crossed beside me,
her black back pressed firm
against my chest, she shivers
with this slight turn, but remains.

Pharaonic Tongues

Hieratic script surrounds the statue’s base
like armies of black ants attacking the soft

obsidian that has settled on this bare plain
erased of all other features by unrelenting

insistence of wind and sand, conspirators
with time to consume all evidence of life.

And yet these words remain today for us
to touch the rough demands of forgotten

dynasties, workers who braved the sun
to leave nothing of themselves in the terse

sentences praising battles with dubious
outcomes, the exaggerated lives of kings

and queens less revealed by these lines
than by X-rays that strip away wrappings

to reveal encephalitic skulls, perfect teeth,
and the hermaphrodite’s misshapen form.

This monument remembers the locusts
darkening the land with a hungry cloud

that stripped the gardens of tender leaves
and blossoms like flames, it sings morning

songs of dawns when the moon and sun
shared the sky as cranes dipped down

to write their passing in ripples dissolving
across the sacrificial lake, it commemorates

the bodies of children piled underground
like a cache of scrolls to be unrolled one

day to document treasures long to dust—
knowledge no longer worth passing down.

Jon Tribble is the managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and the series editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry published by Southern Illinois University Press. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, Crazyhorse, Quarterly West, and The Jazz Poetry Anthology. His first collection of poems, Natural State, will be published by Glass Lyre Press in 2016. He directs internships in editing and publishing for the Department of English at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.


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