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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Joshua Coben


Body of Work


Sleep now in the bed of your unmaking.
Only in dreams will you complete
the work of waking, the task undone

that goads nightmare toward truth. Conceive
a brooding place. Rouse into sleep
where night can ease the litter out,

lick clean the naked, newborn thoughts
freed from their sac. Lie down to feed
the body of your work, the bed

made up and incomplete. Suspend
all doubt to deepen it. Lie, make
it up again, more sweetly beggar

disbelief. Deduct from sleep
the coverlet of lies. Wake to
your work as to a lover's bed.



Seals at Wellfleet


Cattle lolling close to shore
pour themselves like mercury
into the swell, black herds slunk in
from grazing smelts in far kelp pasture,
massing near the beach as if
to tell of gathering disaster

or else that all is well. Two boys
hail them from out of range, wade in
calf-deep to find their stance against
the sallying of waves. Heels spurting
sand, they skate in place, defy
the undertow to sweep them out.

Undulant, the seals watch
what the sea lets pass, what it will keep.



Wait Until You Know


what the dark is for
and the hard hours
we wake to.

Wait until you find
a use for confusion,
for cruelty received

and given.
When you have seen
birth and death

reverse themselves,
each season overruled,
happiness cut down

to fire new happiness,
then you will judge
what the afflictions meant

if anything,
how much disaster
mattered,

whether it was just
a turning of the soil
or a dandelion seed

set adrift.



Blue Road


I will travel on nothing,
weightless, without food,
stay out longer than I know,
refusing to break
until day rises
blue from the road.

Blue is the weight
of long travel, of nothing
on the road, the unknown day
breaking the will,
though I refuse to stay,
the rise my only food.

Travel breaks me
to the day's will.
I am its refuse and its food,
a stay against long waiting,
a rising blue
knowing nothing but road.

If I long for travel
yet refuse to rise,
afraid to break new road,
waiting for food alone,
will I stay ignorant of blue,
know nothing of day?

At daybreak I will not wait
to rise toward that blue
as to a food long refused.
I will stay on the road,
travel until nothing
is all I know.



Antechamber


The father is a dark door
the son may lean against
to listen for the locked room
of himself, his next life.

Later he will listen there
for the echo of his own
death. Meanwhile he becomes
a dark door for someone
else. It takes him years

to grow so broad and smooth,
so wooden and closed. He does
not feel the ear of his son
pressed close and listening.