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two poems

by Richard Newman

Valley of Unending Sunset

In the savage red valley, shadows

of rock formations reach for tomorrow.

Even the small rocks stand like monuments

to the forgotten dead—because they are.

You have spent decades stumbling toward this valley.

No trees rise from the rocks and pitiless soil,

only brush and, in spring, purple flowers.

You hike to the center of this dried floodplain

but no longer remember why.

A few square watchtowers, squat barbicans,

resist gravity. The rest are crumbling to gravel and sand.

You doze a few moments in the hot shade of a watchtower.

The older you become, the less

you remember your dreams, which spill

from your head like sand when you wake.

From the tops of towers there is nothing

to watch but shadows, which stretch

across the valley like stagnant water.

When tectonic plates rub shoulders,

bones of the forgotten dead tremble.

The rocks dissolve. The bones beneath

the rocks dissolve into pools of shadows.

Time dissolves the setting sun.

Once you knew nothing of nothing.

Now you feel it in your own dissolving bones

and the valley wind sucking your breath,

sucking your words down to a whisper.

Was this once a palace? A city?

A battlefield? You’ve forgotten your history.

How long you’ve been here, you can’t say.

It must be time to leave, time to go home,

but no, you are already home—

no, you will be here a long time

before you can return home.

Trois chansons

1. Petite chanson d’exile

I’m old enough for him to be my grandchild,

this Saigon sprout who’s pulled far worlds together

though family remains unreconciled.

“I’m too old and tired to meet my grandchild,”

my mother says, each one of us exiled

across harsh seas, unlike my veteran father,

who loves but forgets the name of his grandchild,

this little one who’s pulled far worlds together.

2. Petite chanson de paternité

I don’t like you, Daddy. You are old.

At three my son knows where to stick the knife,

his sweet voice cutting through the stunned household,

I don’t like you, Daddy. When you are old

you think before reacting, blood controlled,

but this is now my song the rest of my life:

I don’t like you, Daddy. You are old.

I’m 56. He knows where to stick the knife.

3. Petite chanson de la sagacité

My son says my job is to eat ice cream.

Not a professor, writer. He’s not wrong.

I have more faith in chocolate than academe,

and he says my job is to eat ice cream.

It’s winter afternoon. Our windows gleam.

Mouths full of chocolate, we sing an ice cream song

because he says my job’s to eat ice cream

and not write poems. Kids know. He’s not wrong.


Richard Newman is the author of four books of poetry, most recently the forthcoming Blues at the End of the World, and also the novel Graveyard of the Gods. He currently teaches Creative Writing and World Literature at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco. Before moving to the Maghreb, he and his family lived in Vietnam, Japan, and the Marshall Islands.


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