There are words that can be said
simpler than thunder, microscopic jellyfish
words, how they bloom like winter
berry, coming from nothing, how sudden
their lightning, how sure and biting
the cloud that comes from the mouths of people
no longer in love—their words which have become
gesture, movements in a dance they are
learning—which is a different sound than a hallway
of children running silent out of school
or the lone man walking through his idea of
a world in which he decides what stays.
There are words too that don’t come, sounds
from the open mouths of Iraqi mothers,
the first words, one long utterance
of grief, one strangled wail, one distance
rendered in the repetition of distance.
This is all that we offer huddled
at history’s burning barrel, telling stories
of what it was like when we had everything,
rubbing our hands in the thick smoke, catching
now and then a flick of ash on open palm.
Jeff Whitney is the author of Note Left Like Silver on the Eyes of the Dead (Slash Pine Press, 2013) and The Tree With Lights in it (Thrush Press, 2015). Along with Philip Schaefer, he co-authored Smoke Tones (Phantom Limb Press, 2015) and Radio Silence (winner of the 2014 Black River Chapbook competition from Black Lawrence Press). Recent poems can be found in Blackbird, Columbia Poetry Review, Cream City Review, Poetry Northwest, and Verse Daily.