James Owens

First Lines of a Breviary

I don't know how to know
if it matters—any of it,
even the steady-into-life

of early June, when suddenly
there are oak leaves as broad
as a hand, and the purple scrota

of slipper orchids buzz
with insects—but two hardass,
fuckyou crows brawl, growling,

above the clearing, slashing
at each other for room,
with the whole fat-clouded sky

swinging around their shoulders.
Their shadows tumble below
like black gloves that try

to scrub the blood stain
of bloom from warm stones
where moss has clenched and opened

in countless crimson threads
knotting into spore, and none
of it depends on my sadness.




A violation. I left you at the door,
but passing your basement window, I saw.
Unbuttoning, private and practical,
without ceremony, you tossed your skirt
to the bed and stretched for pleasure
in bra and panties before the mirror and half-
swiveled your hips, flexing
to appraise the sleek-muscled calf and the silken
firm thigh, and turned away, happy and secret.

It was winter and late. The fading tan-line
across your shoulder blades cut into me.
I trudged home, reluctant to leave,
breath clinging to the air, flush
with the good story of the body.


Those last nights before I left, when you undressed
behind the closet door so I would not see,
we slept in the same bed, but meticulously
measured our separate spaces, keeping to what was ours,
the edges of the mattress, avoiding dangerous touch.

Often those mornings, we woke tangled
together, the stupid, unwilled bodies still dreaming of us.
Eyes lowered then, careful, we crept apart.
The summer morning light washed us like cool water.

Author Portrait

James Owens's most recent collection of poems is Mortalia (FutureCycle Press, 2015). His poems, stories, translations, and photographs appear widely in literary journals, including publications in The Fourth River, Kestrel, Connecticut River Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and divides the year between central Indiana and northern Ontario.

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