Steven B. Rogers


My old alien body is a foreigner
Struggling to get into another country

–Jim Harrison (1937-2016)

he draws long and hard on the chocolate shake
I brought him in the hospital & a smile crosses
his face between the final slurps sounding
like a Shop-Vac sucking water off
a flooded basement floor     “Thanks for this”
he says holding up the empty cup still smiling
“Better than the tapioca they feed me here”

his eyes focus on a baseball game on TV
“the Tampa Bay Rays are having a good year”
Detroit is leading 12-0 in the third inning
I ask him about the book on his night table
he thanks me for it but it is not from me
none of this seems to matter to him at all
it will be forgotten by morning if not before

I sometimes wonder if someday I will end
up just like him     my own memory slipping
I see faces but no longer remember names
a favorite song but I can’t remember why
a poem I wrote but can no longer remember
it is becoming a constant reason for concern
will I descend into this mental midnight

we sit quietly and talk about nothing special
& he asks me if maybe I can bring him
a chocolate shake the next time I come to visit
he continues to stare at the TV on the wall
Detroit is now leading 16-0 in the fifth
“Looks like the Rays may go to the Series”


You poor man, you poor man.
–Attila Jozef

his vacant eyes fixated
on the dark gaze
of twin steel barrels
silent but not vacant
then firmly squeezed

eternity rushed in
like an exploding nova
then an accumulating silence
his sudden disappearance
reverberating along Big Wood River
passing far beyond the Sawtooths

who was he
this avatar for all
fathers looking at their sons
pondering & wondering
how they have failed them
wanting desperately to know
how not to fail them
one more time


In Memory of Jim Harrison (1937-2016)

I envision Liu Zongyuan’s old man
fishing from a solitary boat on a cold river

evoking a place I often find myself wishing
to return to with its purity and peaceful silence
an old man seeking what only one can truly find

long before the sun crests Absaroka peaks
& greets with the dewed perfume of sagebrush
I roam among the stones at the river’s hard margins

snow has left the valley & run-off is days away
the river still quiet & winter-chilled gives rise to blizzard
hatches of blue wing olives & I watch the nymphs emerge

escaping their shucks & drying their wings to take flights
as lurking cutthroats rise to the midges enticing a strike
along the edges of soft currents     cutbanks & pools

& the Yellowstone’s back eddies as the old man waits
catching a fish is not important as he stares at the water
whiling away time alone enjoying a quiet cold river

*Liu Zongyuan (773-819) was a poet of the Tang Dynasty in China.
This is a reference to his poem “Jiang Xue” [River Snow].

Sonoran Daybreak

lighting the morning’s first cigarette
curtains billow with a breeze in soft light
she lies in bed enveloped in a quiet stillness
as he measures her breathing at daybreak
he watches as she purses her lips
sighing gently among the pillows
a few hours earlier he had embraced her
the way sleep never can & her cool skin
the discreet feel of the long familiar

the night before they dreamed of a day
in the Sonoran desert as a storm approached
the air around them sizzling with electricity
lightning spiking the desert floor & thunder rolled
fingers of rain caressed them both gently
& the sweet scent of sagebrush freshened
the air as the storm passed further west

tonight he will return alone to this familiar bed
crushing out the day’s last cigarette
trying to approach an uneasy sleep
tomorrow he will rise again early
& imagine her four thousand miles away
alone in her own bed with her entangled dreams
anamnesis of that Sonoran desert storm
as she reaches out to touch her own dawn

Williston Road

many times I have traveled
the Williston Road
once when a storm blew
off the Gulf of Mexico
once in a swamp fog
once on a gibbous moon
waning as I wondered
why he chose to disappear
shedding family & friends
suddenly & so easily
gone yet in plain view

many times I have traveled
this long rural highway
this time perhaps the last time
there has been no explanation
to my past question why
no words at all this time
a plastic trachea stifles
speech as it fills the lungs
the respirator a constant clicking

returning home now
this painfully familiar road
its skirtings of live oak
burdened by Spanish moss
approaching storms
swamp fogs & moons
whether waning or waxing
all soon to be forgotten
once blue-edged flame
has taken all that remains
to its final disappearance

Steven B. Rogers is a historian and research consultant based in Washington, DC. He is the editor of A Gradual Twilight: An Appreciation of John Haines published by CavanKerry Press in 2004. His historical and personal essays, literary criticism, and poetry have been widely published, including in past numbers of Gargoyle. He and his wife reside in historic Mount Rainier, Maryland.