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s Prairie Schooner 80.2 (2006) 98-100

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Dismantling the Fallen, and: Without Us

Dismantling the Fallen

It fell in the night, broken
when we couldn't see or hear
the last groaning bend,
the shattering crack and
tilt to frozen ground
like bowing. We found it
hung at the base
on a final hinge of flesh
we didn't dare approach
fearing the last few fibers
would give and bring
its tons down fast upon
our heads. So we lurched
into its top of tangled limbs
with loppers and saws,
freeing one knot at a time,
careful of its shifting
strains letting go and snapping
our frail bones. Its architecture
of tensions bent
and broke joint by joint
as we heaved at the remains,
stripping off upper intricacies,
pulling, dragging against
their refusal to unfasten,
till at last we'd hauled them
free and it lay denuded
as a torso, all muscle and twist.
Then we cut along the waist,
each bite closer to a heart [End Page 98]
we dreaded we would wake –
a hundred years of feeding
on sun and air made it
heavy as a grief we could not
leave: All we could do then
was watch, aware of every breath
as it settled inch by
inch to the earth.

Without Us

What if we'd left enduring
versions of ourselves in terra
cotta standing at shorelines
where we'd been transfixed
for so much of a season –

as if we'd been so infused
with water and light, perception
became a soft clay spreading
behind our faces and arms

and we changed into a cast
likeness of our astonishment
at the hour when geese
gathered in distant fields –

the calamity of their voices
before a sudden rise, froth
of a hundred wing beats then
the silent resolve of departure – [End Page 99]

as if we'd remained, unmoved
witnesses to earth's surface
tensions lacing together in
water and air, crystallizing
on frangible blades of grass
and the lake's graying flesh,
thickening to a visible skin –

what if right now we awoke
still there among the mute
forms of things, despising
nothing, asking for no entry,
enclosed in winter's language?

Joel Friederich's poems have appeared in the Paris Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, the Southeast Review, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Without Us, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.



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