THREE POEMS

by Michael VanCalbergh
[from the archive: this piece first appeared in print in Big Muddy issue 18.2]


He Is Beauty.

                          I’m not supposed to say that.
                          I should have described the strength
                          in his hands.

Except his eyes are almost white
they’re so blue; they hold the secret
that suffering happens in the light.

                          I’ve gone too far.
                          There aren’t hammers
                          that shape his brow.

But when he’s clean shaven
I can picture someone
running their hand along his cheek,
falling for the soft lines that leave
room for the smallest secrets.

                          I’m meant to take it back,
                          step behind metaphor and poetry,
                          ask them to dance so no one wonders.

Yet he is Beauty and it flurries
like snow from his mouth. Small piles
drift around my feet.

                          I’ll stop. I’m afraid:
                          People will know
                          this is about my father.
                          I fear shifting in seats
                          and coughs and looks
                          that come with saying what I mean.

Although what I fear more
is being told I cannot say
he is Beauty
                          and listening.

 

Building a New Chicago
              Erasure of “New CPS school grounds being built on site of estimated 38,000
unmarked graves” by Nereida Moreno Chicago Tribune April 5th, 2018

to build a school in the city .
              is an unusual complication:
                              human remains lie beneath the soil.

The $70 million school is a Poor House
                             where people were unmarked. the dead
              too poor to afford bodies.

                              “There can be bodies all over,”
said a researcher.

The school is in time
               for A sign

“Building a New Chicago”.

              this is progress.

                              there are intact caskets buried
                              underneath bodies primarily buried
                              in scattered human remains,

victims of Chicago
                in what is known as
a poorhouse.

The state changed Chicago
to what is now Chicago
in the years after Chicago
                           sold cemeteries bound by restaurants.

                           Bodies were homes
since the city began the school

                           to disturb human
                           remains.

Still a plan to build the school.

               Workers are required
                              to keep small bones and artifacts they come across
               in plastic storage containers.
The human remains are discovered,
                              per the Human Remains Act.

                              to establish the remains
                              a corpse passed a law requiring
                              human remains
                for learning and training.

                             the bodies emerge for people
                                            to tell stories.

                                            for more than a century
                                            their hands had been absolutely
                            incredible. the bodies, “jumble of bones”,
                                            cataloged and analyzed
                                            experience repatriation
                                            of forgotten space.

                            the cemetery a school
buried underneath Chicago.

                               thousands were buried
                 who couldn’t afford burials.
in Chicago
history was born
                to command poverty.

                                             What do you do with a person
                who has no money?
the project was built
                             using death certificates.

                                                                                                       These people in life
                                                                                                       forgotten in death.

 

 

Street Fight
After George Bellows

There’s something normal
about boys meeting for a fight;
fists craned back
about to snap their youth
into each other’s face.
The end, seemingly simple
but always the same.

One goes home, white t-shirt
covered in blood, hangs it
over his bed. He parades
his friends past it exclaiming
not one drop is his. He doesn’t
understand why other boys
aren’t impressed after a week.

The other acts tougher,
collects pride in his forearms.
He finds someone bigger
and slower, summons
a leering crowd, tries again.
When he rises on the other side
of absolute, he’s thankful
for short memories and wonders
when he’ll feel changed.


Michael VanCalbergh is a graduate of Rutgers-Newark but currently survives in Normal as a part-time professor. When not negotiating how many treats his daughter can have in one evening, he is one half of the comedy etymology podcast Words for Dinner. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming from, The Collagist, Figure 1, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Naugatuck River Review, Gingerbread House, Apex Magazine and others.