Three Poems by Laura Long

A winter, a riddle

Day after week, the night goes on wordless
till I force it to empty its pockets 
onto your table, onto our scatter-shot dreams—
bent nails, rattling seed pods, a raffle KEEP ME ticket

a wheat penny, an arrowhead, a Greek dictionary 
an engraved invitation—the hour and place a crossroads 
for someone, and coming for you, too, when the past
was the future and you were going to be as special 

as anyone, bright as a flame plunging into the river
and someone’s stupid hopeful flute would have played
as well as it could, but now the night, possibly a jerk, 
lifts more from its pockets—

a detective novel stamped “discard”
     a crushed loaf of wonder bread
          a sapphire dragonfly with hollowed-out eyes
               its wings not the least bit crumpled

and tosses them all into the sky.

So I say to a friend, 
come home with me even though 
I am not myself half the time
and can’t explain how(l) I need you.

In the morning light stings my eyes
as I walk toward the frozen mountains 
lurch and catch myself between 
snowbanks I wonder 

will ever melt. Alone now
I think of my brother, dead, 
stupidly dead, at 22 years and 29 days old.
Only alone can I think of him and know 

we were here 
     and you are gone 
          and I am here—
               I know you still

I know you still.

A cardinal flies out of the black woods
a ruby in the air 
above the ice-locked river.
How can a heart not leap? 

Tell me and the treasure 
will be yours.

Note Left on a Table

I have to dash out the door now
into the shaking October light
because it will be dark in a few hours
and the inevitable is not my friend.

Is it yours? Then you and I
are different. But I like your camel, 
the roll of its been-there, seen-that eyes 
and the way the bells around its neck 

jingle as it plods along 
while you ride high and purple
sometimes with an indecipherable 
smile. Me, I spin 

in light tossed from a pail
and roll on leaves that have fallen
slippery and gold, gold and slippery
forgotten on the cold earth.

Wednesday in a Foreign Country

The leaves on the trees in the piazza
ruffle between sheen and shadow 
as women kiss cheeks and gossip
kids weave feet around a soccer ball 

old men scoot checkers and the light
shifts and spills every which way
without words or quarrels. 
I wander to forget I wanted

to keep loving you. But you said,
“I think we should be like a pair 
of windshield wipers, perfectly in sync 
but not touching, like my parents.”

Was I that impossible
or had you already met her, in a room 
where a door becomes a table, or in a dream
where the grass becomes the sea?

Tonight I walk cobblestone Roman streets
lined with tall old buildings
and glance into lighted windows—
a scalloped wave turns 

a corner on a ceiling. On a sill
books stand in a neat row
each one waiting to be cradled
by someone who knows the language.

Laura Long is the author of the novel Out of Peel Tree and co-editor of Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia. Recent poems appear in A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia and Mountains Piled upon Mountains: Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene. She is working on two novels and a book of poems. She lives in the Blue Ridge foothills in Virginia and teaches creative and environmental writing at the University of Lynchburg.

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