Bruce Sager


It came to us years after the fact,
even as oil spilled on the waters
can travel the ocean for years, for
many hundreds of nautical miles,
or emerge decades later from leagues
beneath the surface. It came to us
first through a mazy small voice
on the other end of the line
asking if he were still alive, our
father, who was not, though still
alive in someone’s mind, and
ours. The voice made charges,
but softly, coiling, with hesitations,
not out of hatred or bitterness
but out of thirst, a need to know.
It had no hunger to strike. It spread
across our understanding like
the fields of serous emeralds
that on an imaging screen spell
cancer. We could not separate
what the voice knew, what it should
not have known, from what we knew.

The voice sounded curiously like
our own. It chased us to old drawers
filled with sparkling things, bits
of cloth, a notebook with cryptic
markings. In his hand, his deliberate
hand. It chased us to two photos
that had never made sense to us.
It was frame-wrecking, a discourse
on love, a summation of the great
books. It was like a real snake, not
the notion of a snake, but a snake
curled on the rug, in your bed,
nesting in an impossible place.

It slithered with the fluid contours
of love, but a different message
than that of the scriptural snake,
the killing snake, the practical
snake in its emerald glory, it was
a message like oil on the waters, but
filled with the fluid contours of love.
The fluid contours of love, atomized.

Vincent, my father

Nobody knew.
I was his secret.

He made me
in the little unmade bed
in Arles, two yellow pictures
staring down at him
and the woman who was
to become my mother

and their clothing discarded
in haste, in heat, his yellow
straw hat tilting madly
at the foot of the bed,
her maid’s smock hanging
by one thin tie from the chair
where it landed, in their fever,
like one thrown die,
a child of chance

as I am. A child of chance.
I don’t remember much else,
he was gone not long after
I came. Mother says he was tender,
that he held my face in his hands—
she always says those marvelous hands—
like sunlight. She says that. She says that
his beard tickled. That my red hair
is his.

It was an August afternoon.
Outside the sun was painting
sunflowers, August paints flowers
all over Arles.

Author Portrait

Bruce Sager won the 2014 William Matthews Poetry Prize, selected by Billy Collins. Past awards include the Harriss Poetry Prize, with Dick Allen serving as judge, and the Artscape Literary Arts Award in poetry, chosen by William Stafford. He has been the recipient of Maryland State Arts Council Awards in both fiction and poetry. Famous, which was praised as a "tour de force" by Dick Allen, is available through Amazon. His newest book, The Indulgence of Icarus, has recently been released by Echo Point. Four new volumes, one of short stories, three of poetry, are forthcoming by mid-2017 via Hyperborea Publishing and BrickHouse Books.