3 Poems by Pushcart Winner BJ Ward
From the recently released paperback, Jackleg Opera: Collected Poems, 1990-2013.
By BJ Ward
Shotgun Wedding 2006
Originally in Jackleg Opera: New Poems (2013)
Getting married ½ an hour before traffic
people thought we were speeding—
not our mothers and fathers,
there to witness
the joy cemented into the place it grew—
but rather the eyebrow raisers & siblance dwellers—
She’s pregnant, it’s hiss— hiss—
Our son, four months in your belly
and already smarter than the President,
just lay there and grew quietly
as our marriage became
the second product of our love.
Judge Palmer asked,
In his dry legal way,
“Do you love her with a part of your
soul you didn’t even know about until
you kissed her?”
“I’m guilty of that,” I said.
“And do you?” he said.
“I do too,” you said.
And then it was like the father
of us all
pointed a shotgun at me
and fired joy
through all my organs.
The judge sentenced us to life—
real, awake life
out of the jails we had been roaming in—
life in prism—
then started handing out fines
for parking too long.
We got out of there just in time.
When people say, “That’s not very romantic,”
I tell them what’s not romantic
for it was the most beautiful wedding—
because you were there
and— O Sweet World—
you said yes.
Originally in 17 Love Poems with No Despair (1997)
I’ve tried diners and train stations.
I’ve tried secluded mountains
And the bottoms of coffee mugs,
but nothing has matched the compacted loneliness
inside me like the density of the wind
dragging across the states between us.
As hard as the diamonds in your smile,
the wind carries its hammers with no hands
and sustains a moan with no mouth,
seems to cradle solitude in its rough arms like firewood
to be burned in my house as it passes through
and asks, “Where does she sparkle from?”
and tows behind it tumbleweeds and whirlwinds
spinning with possibilities— “Perhaps there is a sea
inside her, perhaps untouched waters—
a pool that no one has swum.
Maybe her shimmering eyes are evidence
of holiness in a godless world—
who else could have shellacked so perfectly?”
This curious wind goes on,
“Or perhaps there is a darkness inside her
that is being shined into every time you talk.
Have you ever been lost so deeply
that no one could reach in to pull you out?
You all have spaces, spaces
that you border with secret shores,
surround with moats of dark and cavernous oceans.
You could distance yourselves with such darkness,
seclude the tender, sacred, and vulnerable landscapes
within you from the harsh alarms and pollution
of a world that has lost its compassion—
make parts of yourselves dead like flowerwreaths
tossed off a ship that was too weighed down, lost
until someone shines a wrist of light
across large plains and deep waters
onto what has been cast aside too long.”
And so I tell you, across this great land this is full
of empty spaces, I’ve been watching things spin,
listening to a sort of fury, losing myself,
and finding half of us. I’ve been traveling
to prepare for this journey toward you.
Let me ride a jagged moon across your sky.
Let me be a surfer of your dark currents.
Let all that darkness soak me
and let the light, the condensed light,
guide me to a greater place. And get me there.
And then let me in.
Originally in Landing in New Jersey with Soft Hands (1994)
The lake is a riddle—
it asks itself over and over again.
To know the answer, you must own water—
even the water of your own body
would suffice. The lake beckons to be heard
as only the lonely can hear it—
a radio signal with a very specific destination.
It throws itself onto the shore
At your feet—are you lonely enough
to answer it yet? The answer lies
in how well you throw yourself into the water. There are answers
in the depths—loves to be reckoned with.
Look again at the flat promise
of so much water—how it will swallow
you, all of you, like rain.
This lake is a riddle—
it asks itself over and over again.
Excerpts from Jackleg Opera: Collected Poems, 1990-2013, published by North Atlantic Books.