Markwardt Poetry


There is a stream you were born in.

You didn’t know you were in it.  You sang,

rhymed wild sounds, drew pictures

of a grinning boy with flames shooting from his hair.

Then over the slow accumulation of days

people tugged at you, fished you out

into unfamiliar streams, their murky waters.

At first you fought.  But their tackle

was too powerful, led to slow deadening.

You didn’t even know you were out, or when.

Still you survived.  Got older.  Matured.

Memory of your stream tugs at you, an adult.

Always there, a stream is yours.

Always buoyant, it will bear you up.

No one can dam it any more,

except you.  Listen to its good voice

as it rushes over rocks.


Snapped awake

again, hail him with a smile and a slap

on his frizzled back.

He has come to remind–

anxiety is a favorite cousin

of being alive.  Breathe his hot breath

till it blends your own.

Ask permission to lick his snout.

Will he cower you into terror?

Will he tear you to shreds?

Escort him to your kitchen.

Whip up a meal,

whatever he wants.  When you can look

unflinching in his piercing eyes, when so close

you see his jagged teeth are

your edge, you are close.

Open a bottle of wine.

Toast, clink glasses, laugh.

Belly laugh until dawn’s breaking light.

If not this dark night then another.


It’s touched so much:
radishes in spring dirt, the silk lining
of my wife’s nightgown.

And what it has brushed, bridges
time zones and generations,
spans alphabets and oceans.

It’s combed through
mud on a bayou’s banks, guts in a wild trout,
my sister’s hair after Daddy’s funeral,

and the knuckle on which it stands
is like my Grandfather’s:
strong, chapped, often bruised.

I won’t have it burned off. It reminds
of oysters in smoky bars, dewberries
on clotted roadside slopes, spilled whiskey.

There’s so much it has to touch:
a dolphin’s fin, an emperor
penguin’s wing, my grandkids’ feet.

even my coffin. And the viral cap thrives,
weathering close to earth’s grit,


For the poodle in Corpus Christi,
I feel awful, still.

And for the gliding roadrunner
outside Santa Fe, my regret has not ebbed.

* * * * * * *
You survived
by a hair, a nose, a foot, for what it matters—a mile.

Because I bought organic half & half and veggie meatloaf.
Not because I bought them.

Because I took my own plastic bags, recycle.

If I had braked.
Because I braked.

Because at a propitious moment in history
I swerved.

Because of El Nino, La Nina,
a ripple from another famine in Africa.

If the Moon had been in Leo . . .
If that night had no moon.

Your death couldn’t have been closer, and more likely.
I toast your health, continued good fortune.

Now knowing
you’ve received the ultimate reprieve

how will you live?


You need to eat an orange.

Under the glare

of fluorescent lights

and a watchful clerk

stocking golden apples,

you have to search

and select.

You have to stand in line

behind five other customers

with full carts

to purchase your lone orange

or you can pocket it,

slip out the door.

You have to wait or worry.

There is no quick

and easy way out

from your hunger which may last

a long time.


He can figure percentages in a flash:

exact, errorless, without a calculator.

I can too, without wanting,

without trying.

One afternoon in late September

showing my tax return

my father’s old math-mind-magic returns;

he leans toward the numbers.

Some men lean together

in beer-stained armchairs toward games

on Sunday afternoons, the TV commentators

doing the talking, others against rifles

in drafty deer blinds.  At times we had leaned

those ways, but accounting is closer

to home.  He spots a charitable donation

I haven’t claimed.  Talking taxes

is not what I wanted as a young man.

I pushed him to lean

as the winds of my requests shifted.

He pushed back.  I moved away

not calling to endure

gaps of silence on the phone

until I found my way as he found

when, leaving  his father’s farm,

he opened his accounting firm.

Anger drained, I met him where he was

and now, taking a break from Schedule A

we walk outside on a brilliant New Mexico day,

admiring over a thousand tomatoes in my garden.

You’ve got a green thumb

like my father had, he says with a bounce.

We stand together in silence

watching fruit ripening.

My wife joins us.

Rubbing her belly, I feel the boy inside

kick toward my hand or, I wonder, is he pushing

and I think I understand:  my father pushed

like his father pushed

and my son will push, and I

pray before the final accounting

we will lean together.