2019 Winning Poem – Air on Air by Joannie Stangeland

Love, we do not live in a river town,
time gliding by in blues and greens,
the passing we’d wade into knee deep—
no, and the lake’s calm stays an illusion,
the water transiting so slowly
to the locks, to the sound—how did the word
for boom or patter, whisper
or scream come to mean a body
of water, gravity having seduced the stream
from fresh to salt? Love, are we lost
in the curious apothecary
of trace elements, the gray in our eyes
coming to mean November?
I’ve stopped counting half-born plans cast
into rain or the brain’s jumbled cupboards,
our lately days domesticated,
our chalk bodies tamed by the same
smooth illusion, its glassy surfaces.

In some umber rests a dusking skull,
bone history holding close this afternoon’s
last ashen light, bone and silence
in its empty spaces, the eyes,
and mind gone—where is the soul,
where the brazen angels thinning
the clouds? Love, not feathers
but the memory of feathers. Not wings
but the sound of them beating, the voices
of air on air above the creek,
their brief and tiny thundering. Love,
I need room for breath in this acquisition
of years flowing, currents below
the water’s skin. Love, touch me now.
Smudge the hour. Feel the beating
west into the red’s long ending.

Joannie Stangeland is the author of The Scene You See, In Both Hands, and Into the Rumored Spring, and three chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in Boulevard, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, and other journals.