Ben Groner III
To the Men Who Laughed at Moses
And to the kids who made fun of their classmate after
school yesterday when he stuttered while trying to
tell a joke. Plenty of things are perforated, after all:
the jungle gym rungs, the white lines bisecting a
desert road, the stories we tell ourselves. And every
moment has its antecedents. The crowd gathering, the
tangling of meanings, the puncture of stony stares.
What if the prophet’s mother had done as she was told?
I’ve no quarrel with guidelines; I’m thankful for the
trees lining the road, the rocks along the riverbank.
But do you remember what you were doing when
you realized rules really were made to be broken?
Show me the person who prefers perfection over
presence and I’ll show you last night’s sunset--
singular, though no more or less brilliant than the
billion before it. Still, the cumulus clouds reveled in
the beams, coating themselves in turmeric and sumac;
unpretentious, but flushed with a naked magnificence.
I often wonder what would change if we cared less
about being right, and more about being made right.
No matter if it comes slowly, haltingly, without fanfare.
Consider the aged cedar whose trunk continues to swell
imperceptibly, despite the phantom limb some punk
broke off out of boredom, despite its lightly charred
crown from last year’s wildfire. That sort of strength
doesn’t wait for a break in the chatter, a break in the
water. A grey heron rises from the river like a memory
about to return, and skims the reeds as it sets its course
for the day when the words come easily, when the
people on the shore know what it’s like to be free.
The Long Light of Late Afternoon
Either the universe is perpetually silent or
it is always shouting, and if the latter,
what on earth is it saying?
I suppose I’m being presumptuous when I have
my ears cocked only for 21st century American English,
with a whisper of a southern drawl.
Perhaps I was given an answer years ago,
or a better question, but distance
or inattentiveness muffled the sound. Now,
a teal butterfly wings through the oleander as
the long light of late afternoon slants over the switchgrass,
then darts in a flash of blue down
to the river bend. Any revelation there
might have been goes unsaid, waits
to be revealed some other time.
In the meantime, earthworms tunnel through
iron-flecked soil, basketballs ricochet off suburban
backboards, black holes
wheel through dark matter as they swallow
galaxies, particles of the sinking sun sift
warmly through the kitchen window.
I’ve learned not to pore over the map for
too long, but to instead keep my eyes peeled for the bridge
that’s—as sure as eggs—up ahead.
The fact that some things are older
than others is no surprise, and no
great tragedy either. After all, a few
of the Alerce trees I hike among
now are more than 3,000 years old,
younger than the volcanoes the locals
promised me a view of, but older
than any other living thing I’ve seen.
I imagine them strong and content as
halfway around the globe, David
gazes from his roof at Bathsheba,
caught somewhere between stimulus
and response, twirling his crown of
gemstones, then setting it aside, all
while the trees I walk past on this
Chilean ridge are transpiring, greeting
the morning sun without complaint, with
no need for strategy or rules or theology.
If we could tap into their memories,
what do they not have mouths to say,
what do we not have ears to hear?
And why does the loom of our memories,
so late to the game, seem to spin and
whirl independently of our wishes?
I’ve forgotten most of my life, though
perhaps the fact that I can remember
anything at all should be pondered with
gratitude. Still, many of the moments
I hoped to savor are gone, while plenty
of humdrum scenes in nameless days
are tucked safely away, clear, nearly
violent in their detail. As I hike
among that solitude of soil and branch
and leaf, those grand trees lifting up the
afternoon, I sense the buoyant emptiness
of all I’ve still yet to experience, of all
the blessings I’ve yet to be given. How
could I know even later that year, I’d
crane my neck for an hour as the sun
sinks somewhere in a Bolivian desert,
trying to memorize an unbroken field
of clouds burning blood red across
the entire sky; or that I’d gaze for the
first time at the bare curve of a lover’s
back, the soft arc a fiddle’s body, the
skin taut and vibrating like strings
ready to be drawn across; or that I’d
drive with her down a road out West,
snaking through an aspen-gold valley
while on either side of us mountains--
that existed eons before these Alerce
trees—open upward to the sky, that
we would feel old and young, lost yet
found as the miles slid beneath us, as
we forged ahead, hearts also opening to
stem and stone, and sky. What words
would we exchange like precious gems?
About the Author: Ben Groner III (Nashville, TN), recipient of Texas A&M University’s 2014 Gordone Award for undergraduate poetry and a Pushcart Prize nomination, has work published in Appalachian Heritage, New Mexico Review, Third Wednesday, Gnarled Oak, The Bookends Review, and elsewhere. You can see more of his work at bengroner.com/creative-writing/