Swamp Sparrows Joseph Gross Poetry

local_library Swamp Sparrows

by Joseph Gross

Published in Issue No. 179 ~ April, 2012

In memory of Scott Abplenalp, musician and friend


When Van Leeuwenhoek looked through a dragonfly’s eye,

When the New Church Tower turned upside down

And split into dozens of Gothic stalactites,

He couldn’t have felt more curious than you,

Your microscopic attention to tone,

Intervals dancing in your ear as relationships—

Thirds are lovers, fifths are friends—

How you tried to imagine each key as a color

And laughed when you told me they all seemed red.

It’s not that you weren’t lazy as hell,

You lived to be lazy, you curled up and smiled

In the warm lap of sloth. You never held a job,

I don’t think, in our band-years together,

Never owned a car, never paid rent either

To your parents who owned the tiny house where you died—

A doll-house, almost, a show-model fitted

Inexplicably with plumbing and wiring we shorted

At almost every practice: it struggled to contain you,

As did your clothes, for several reasons,

As did Heather, whose blue sedan hulked,

Monstrous in the miniature driveway. She found you

On the floor, coiled in the sheets—I love you madly,

You’d said as she scooped her keys from the diner-style table

In the cramped kitchenette, to pick up some dinner while you napped.

Everyone said how at least you had died

Doing what you loved and I thought, Sleeping?

But I guess they meant how you bailed on your math degree

To play keys in smoky rust-belt bars

And of course they were right—you lit up like acetone,

You shivered in storage rooms that doubled as Back Stage

At the prospect of rocking for twenty-five people.

Cradling a comped box of Labatt like a newborn,

You’d say, The whole case is free, man, a little out of breath,

Long blond hair defeating the ponytail,

The whole Fucking case, in the same holy tone

You used to describe an early Phish show,

Or the rocky gorge where we climbed trees and sang

To the bright stars in the pure black sky

Of being young and agleam and stupidly doomed.

I’d like to go down the stairs from your kitchenette

And inhale the trillions of green mildew spores

That clustered in patches on the cheap drum kit,

On the walls, the furnace, on the carpet-sample floor,

I’d like to find you there, getting up from your keyboard,

All the valves in your heart still pistoning.

I’d like you to pound the cellar doors open

To the marsh-land that sloped down to reeds from your yard

And show me where swamp sparrows have nested in the grass.

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Joseph Gross has recently published poems, stories, and essays in a variety of literary journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Fourth Genre, Mid-American Review, Redivider, Salamander, and SmokeLong Quarterly. He holds a Master of Fine Arts from Western Michigan University, and currently works as the Assistant Director of the Ransom District Library in Plainwell, MI. He has a new essay forthcoming in Ninth Letter.