John Toivonen's poetry has been published in Norfolk Review, Midwest Review, and Paterson Literary Review. He published his most recent collection of poetry, Song After a Long Campaign, with Great Roots Press in 2015. He is a criminal defense attorney in Lansing, Michigan.
Drinking Beneath a Fountain
I might find some way to converse with you
while we sit at an iron-grated table
with the pouring hush of water
flowing seamlessly from the fountain.
You have put away the money-counting clock
long enough to mediate upon the moving glass
of constant water, the perfect rhythm of planets,
and the night’s auburn notice of the Resurrection.
You speak of blood and ask the formal question,
did the dolphins bleed during their morphing
from men under the capricious hand
wielded by the itinerant mountain god?
Did wives abandon themselves to something
better than ruin, something ordained
by the much older, and chaotic cleansing
spirit not much praised by authors today?
We drink openly without fear of retribution.
We take the same care with the methodical
pouring of the brown, slightly sweet nectar
that mothers do with their calm nursing.
We drink Japanese whiskey just to seek
a different touch on the tongue, and then
when the completed glass is carted away
we explore an unknown Irish whiskey.
Everything tastes good; everything has its origin.
The words date back to the days of English and French
fighting. Not much is archaic in these moments
when the drinkers are the heads of the fountain.
Scene From a Formal Wedding
We carried the drunken people out of the wedding,
aloft like heavy-boned candles dripping
their perspiration on the hardwood floor.
The negatives of the people seized by camera
seem like black and white ethereal angels.
They comfort us by taking us back to the source.
The old Angelus of Italian folk song
prances pepper notes quick and hot on the ear.
We are free from modern, contrived tedium.
Long before we were here they practiced the pattern,
the spice of rye rides on the tongues
who administer the rites of family.
Blessings are spit into a small animal's foot,
there is the ritual cursing of lizards,
and big-hipped bridesmaids slave away the dance.
This is the coronation.
Everything that is modern feels
the infliction of an atavistic wound.
Though I have not run my hands across
the midnight stitches sown by his mother
who conjugated flesh back from history
to making the man walk again,
and my fingertips have not travelled
in the red gulley of his scars,
I believe that mocking pirates
morphed to dolphins,
eternal ecstasies of wine
made spring procession in the hills,
and he has returned
because these stories are vivid
in my mind.
The brown, leaf-covered limbs awake to day
as the freckled wood marks skinny dents
in the beige tundra spit with swamp.
In a scattered island of trees, they depart,
the tourque-spun knees of deer running
from the lascivious eyes of hunters
scattering shot along the line.
Each decade of miles the scanning eyes see
a grand rectangle of dancing, cloth stripes
towering over the tundra
marking a place where man makes his home.