Bob Watts



Eyes turned from the bruise of sallow fire
where stone still smoldered down to flakes
the wind could swirl across the flat
or lift to dust their mountain refuge
with the dark and delicate remains
of all they couldn’t leave behind,
he crept to her.  From higher ground,
the plain looked smooth, a plate of thick,
black glass on which she seemed the last
light left against the spread of darkness.
But this close he could see the perfect
fury of the hand that had shattered
the ground beneath her feet and smeared
the city’s dead across her face.


The nights his daughters came to him,
faceless in the play of fire-thrown shadow,
he told himself he didn’t know
this flesh so much like hers he had
to rise to it.  If he had still
believed in mercy, he’d have prayed
they’d both be barren as the plain
broken beneath its mound of ash.
In his joyless coming he could feel
seeds of destruction great as God
had ever sown, sure as the salt
of her lips lingering on his,
his tongue mixing the residue
of death, the savor of desire.


She shed the house like clothes
she’d worn too long, blemished
with sweat, rubbed to transparency
by knees, elbows, and still

her presence is as palpable
as dust coating the shelves,
spreading a half-quilt on the bed,
filling each slant of sun

with the dip and swirl of cast-off cells,
the lift and turn of skin
that doesn’t live there anymore.

He only has to move
to prompt her choreography
and let her fill his breath.

* * *

Bob Watts is a founding co-editor of Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts, and he currently serves as Assistant Professor of English at Rhodes College in Memphis. Recent work appears, or will soon appear, in Southern Poetry Review, Pembroke and The Paris Review.