Appeasement by John Cullen

John Cullen is the 1st place winner of Streetlight‘s 2022 Poetry Contest

Photo of bulidings, fences, trees and sheep
Photo by Rusty Watson on Unsplash

Three hundred pounds of pasture mix in the trunk.
International Farms estimates .05 percent weed
mixed with Kentucky Blue and Meadow Fescue, and I suspect
at least fifty percent perennial hope. We bounce up the driveway,
and the stars really appear diamond-like. Far from the glow of town
we haul bags filled with Colgate Whitening toothpaste, Momma Mia
frozen pizzas, boxes of pasta, cans of kidney beans and cubed beef
for the coming chili weekend. Half the celestials shine
but no longer exist, persisting in our field of vision
as a constant, a comfort we count on. They shine
like the names of past presidents and childhood
movie stars we remember with affection, Duncan Renaldo,
the Cisco Kid; or Lloyd Bridges, Mike Nelson swapping oxygen
tanks below the surface. Each generation nurses its stars.
On the porch light, a tree frog squats, camouflaged
against the plate as it tracks the brainless fluttering of moths.
Other stick-thin insects with diaphanous wings rush toward heat.
The kids don’t notice the frog and pile through the door
kicking sneakers into closets, and Jake, the elderly shepherd,
shakes his head, not quite . . . ah yes . . . remembering us.
Now the nightly struggle to bed begins, perhaps less
crazy than usual given the late hour and pizza, but still
you’d think we were settling some ancient blood feud.
One of the boys wants to know if we hit the duck
that bobbed from Miller’s swamp and crossed the road
as we pulled off the exit. I imagine she is a supernova
of feathers along the roadside, perhaps spooked off
the nest or floating roost by some roving coyote,
but I lie and say she likely flew home, then slip out
the front door to a brief shower of star light.
A Forester moth wrings its powdered wings
and the frog unfolds to juggle legs into his mouth.
Back inside, strewn across the bedroom, shoes
mumble smelly dreams of grass, and underwear
blooms on the floor. Everywhere atoms clash
and hold hands, fickle and tentative, shy
a real plan, unrolling before we know. I imagine
the frog remains invisible to other moths
and random acts. Small gods open the doors
of larger concerns, and I wonder what struts
reach up like grasping hands we can’t yet feel.
I look at all I see shining brightly, the boys asleep under covers,
Jake circling invisible smells, the refrigerator humming a song
about scrambled eggs for breakfast. I try to take comfort in the constellation
mapping my evening sky, those dead stars lighting our way.

John Cullen
John Cullen graduated from SUNY Geneseo and worked in the entertainment business booking rock bands, a clown troupe, and an R-rated magician. Recently he has had work published in American Journal of Poetry, The MacGuffin, Harpur Palate, North Dakota Quarterly, and New York Quarterly. His chapbook, Town Crazy, is available from Slipstream Press.

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