Nathan McClain is the author of Scale (Four Way Books, 2017), the 2017 Gregory Pardlo Scholar, and a recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and The Frost Place. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in American Poets, Hunger Mountain, The Southeast Review, Broadsided, and Tinderbox. A Cave Canem fellow, he teaches creative writing at Drew University.
Aubade Ending with a Pacemaker
It’s so easy, from the hotel’s twelfth floor,
to see the sheet of ice splinter, then drift
like continents on the river. From this height,
the snow flurries, doesn’t seem to fall at all. Maybe
it’s the trucks delivering meat (packed
in salt, I imagine), gliding slowly along
that make me think back on the La Brea
Bakery truck driver whose heart quit
at the intersection of Melrose and Western.
Paramedics listened to his chest. Blew
and blew into his mouth before he was wound
to a stretcher, rushed away—the truck, all
its freshly baked baguettes, left and, I was almost
certain, stolen. Who knows
if anything can really be saved? Not you
or me. Not the heart—unreliable
little engine it is. It shouldn’t be a surprise
when I say, “the La Brea Bakery truck driver,”
that I’m thinking of you.
Boy Pulling a Thorn from His Foot
to cradle. Caught
in the act of concentration,
you see it, chiseled there,
his bronze body curled into
mark, not pulling,
rather, about to pull,
the thorn finally out.
Nothing original here.
Marble, quartz—the old
masters have, for ages now,
sculpted this scene—you’ve seen
it—and here you
Again the little boy.
Again his insistent
grief. So what
some exhibits in the museum
have already gone
dark? So what
others have moved on
to new rooms? Left
with your notepad
and pen. And what
have you learned from
standing here so long
examining pain? No
matter how ancient.
has it done you?
The thorn, thrumming
still. He almost
has it now. So close.
Step back, the guard
warns, his one job
to enforce the distance
necessary, which might be called