How the Gods Sent Omens


By John Walser

Through the sneer of a log pop
     the grey ash tinged purple as grape skins
     hearth smoke fat thick as oxhides
          that cover an old man’s hunchbacked shuffle.

Through the tree-filled high sun bird exhortations
     notes like rusted stones sliding on a slope
     each step a tide shift.

Through the mouse and rabbit screams
     in a moon doused night.

Through a dusk hawk sky
a single pellet of iron blue like a scar on its thigh.

Through seafoam honey, dry sunlight wine
     stubs of winter cheese left on a sideboard
     the empty larders of some women’s hearts.

Through blanched eyes, knotted tongues
a dying dog’s snarl stiff and sharp as an olive branch.

Tonight, below an inked out Apollo
     a chalk brushed sky
     beyond the final building
I stepped to the night’s edge
     waited to hear some voice but instead:  goat bells:

those drowsy neck shakes of sleep
     of tufts pulled root clean.

They twitched like someone else’s prophecies
     pale as tassel hyacinth in the morning foot hills fog
     pale as a marble helmet barely pigment traced still.

Imprecise tail feathers
     casual bones cast like new constellations on the ground
     stars that scramble for order
they hollow-floated
the tungk-tungk-tongk of a bucket dropped into that nothing.

And now as if my pen across this notebook
were a blind seer’s stick root divining vibrations  
of the Omphalos I stone touched earlier in the day
the carved friezes, the tumbled pillars
Know Thyself, Everything in Moderation

a man at a table near me, American accent disturbing
this paper napkin charred lamb shank offering
homemade Delphic wine restaurant, says, Goat bells.

Goat bells
.

Up dark stone steps I feel the weight, a fist of coins in my pocket.

In the plateglass honey light of an upper road
hairstylists without customers pantomime in rotating chairs.

Above the highest road, laundry blue and moonlight hung
from ropes and balcony iron this afternoon
dry enough now to be brought in.

In the stonewall street shades of blindness
I follow the hollow horse chest laughter talk pulsing of two women
a language I don’t understand
almost to the opposite edge of town final building
into a pink grapefruit lit night club throb

a beat that says to me

trust the soft chair you sink into
as a man at the end of the bar harp strokes
the small of a woman’s back
trust the starfish of lights from the town below
the blank blue black of the night harbor
trust in bodies that don’t follow goat bells
trust this notebook scrawl
trust another glass of white wine.


John Walser, an associate professor at Marian University (WI), holds a doctorate in English from UW-Milwaukee. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Barrow StreetNimrodHiram Poetry ReviewFourth River and Lunch Ticket. A 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize semifinalist, he is working on three manuscripts of poems.

Photo credit: Julie Pallowick Photography

Photo credit: Julie Pallowick Photography