Kevin Prufer is the author, most recently, of NATIONAL ANTHEM (Four Way Books, 2008), FALLEN FROM A CHARIOT (Carnegie Mellon, 2005), and THE FINGER BONE (Carnegie Mellon, 2002; a Laughlin Award finalist). With Wayne Miller, he's also editor of NEW EUROPEAN POETS (Graywolf, 2008) and PLEIADES: A JOURNAL OF NEW WRITING. His work appears in THE NEW REPUBLIC, BEST AMERICAN POETRY, BOSTON REVIEW, and three recent editions of THE PUSHCART PRIZE ANTHOLOGY. He lives in rural Missouri.

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Three Poems by Kevin Prufer


Dead Soldier

Where the living are, no one's missed him yet.
The best of them
                           will sing themselves to sleep.

The others laugh too loud and swallow pills
until their wet cells burst
                                      beneath the skin like grapes

or bloom like urchins in a Luke-warm sea.

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High above,
                  the green moon glows in a windy sky

like a half-dead cat and its one good eye.

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And who will coin his eyes,
                                       and who would care?

He who failed in school has failed again. And he
who slept last night in a narrow bed
                                                      will sleep in tents of sand

with the collapsing dead.

[First published in The New Republic]


Army Tales

The boy who drowned in the bog, the boy caught in the rotors, the boy who laughed too loud —

The boy who swallowed the bee that stung the throat —

The rip cord worked, but the parachute fluttered weakly above him and would not bloom —

He put his foot down in the foreign grass and heard a click, as of metal on metal. When he lifted that foot —

Sometimes it is a cold day and the clouds rain toxin over the boys on the base —

Sometimes, they don't know they're being watched, leaning against their packs, asleep like that —

One more, one more, he said. One more all around — And the assembled clapped for him, they clapped, he put his money down and smiled because they loved him —

Sometimes a boy thinks he is unloved, so he retires to a dark tent where he will not be disturbed —

Then, the cells wink out like lights on a tall office building in a strange city at dusk —

His friends said it was a sad day, it was very sad. They thought he'd been kidding, they told him not to laugh like that —

You pull the string and out it blooms —

And what was he doing off the base late at night? What was he doing on the open water, in the plane, driving so fast down unfamiliar roads? His mother —

Someone would tell her. Someone would write her a letter, thank god. There's a template for that —

A guy who puts your name on the hard drive, a distant office, a simple program and printer —

You punch in the name and out it comes.

[First published in Colorado Review (Summer 2005)]


National Anthem

And the shopping center said, give me, give me.

And the moon turning on its pole said, I love you, you who have so much to give.

And you said, darling, if you could just wait in the car for ten minutes and I'll be right out—

And the sliding doors opened for you like a coat.

Then the car ticked like the contented in the catatonic snow

and the black boys at the bus stop laughed in their hoods until a bus dragged them

through the night and away—

And a woman paced beneath the store.

Sometimes, I can hear the nation speak through the accumulation of the suburbs—

Olive Garden and Exxon; Bed, Bath & Beyond, the stars that throw their dimes around us all

until the eyes say Love and the streets say Yes! and the parking lot

fills with angels blowing past the lines of freezing cars.

You had been inside for longer than you said, and when you reemerged

I went to help you with the bags. I'm sorry, sorry—into the cold air—I couldn't help

What was the body but a vessel, and what was the store but another,

larger vessel? The keys sang in my numb fingers. The flag applauded in the wind.

And then I saw that you were smiling up at it.

[All poems are also included in National Anthem (Four Way Books, 2008)]