The Present


We made models: this is a moment of happiness,
this is a maple-shaded street, its yellow median line
littered with double wings: some day we might know such things
in our real lives, not just in desire.

We invented Cherryfield, Maine, nine pearl-gray Capes
with sagging porches held together by coats of gesso.
Behind the scrim of birches the Middle Branch River
glittered like the galvanized roof to a tackle shed.

We were quick and replicated a shack with a chalk sign
CHUBBS SMELTS CROAKERS; there was barely time to read it
before it whirled into the past. And she who was driving said,
we know the coming disaster intimately but the present is unknowable.

Which disaster, I wondered, sexual or geological? But I was shy:
her beauty was like a language she didn’t speak and had never heard.

Then we were in Holyfield and it was the hour when the child
waves from a Welcome mat, his eyes full of longing, before turning
inward to his enforced sleep. We waved back but we were gone.

The hour when two moths bump together above a pail of lures.

The hour when the Coleman lamp flickers in the screen house
above the blur of cards being shuffled and dealt amazingly fast.

All my life I have been dying, of hope and self pity,
and an unknown force has been knitting me back together.
It happens in secret. I want to touch her and I touch her
and it registers on the glittering gauges that make the car darker
and swifter and we come to the mountains and this is all I ever wanted:

to enter the moth’s pinhead eye, now, and never return.



About D. Nurkse

D. Nurkse (Photo by Jemimah Kuhfeld)

D. Nurkse has published nine books of poetry, most recently The Border Kingdom, from Knopf, who will publish Nurkse’s new book of poems next summer. Nurkse is also the author of The Fall, Burnt Island, and Shadow Wars. He received a 2009 Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is currently a finalist for the Forward Prize in Great Britain. Formerly the Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, New York, Nurkse has received the Whiting Writers’ Award and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. He has taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Rikers Island Correctional Facility.


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“The Present” © D. Nurkse. Reprinted with permission by the author. This poem first appeared in The Kenyon Review.