Ken Holland

A snow-driven mid-December midnight
The way the darkness somehow lit up the flakes
That powdered the poverty of storefronts and sculpted
To the contour of buckled sidewalks.

While from a bar two figures rolled from the door
Out into the frigid spice of a Wisconsin night, each of them
Obese and pissed off, entangled, ponderous, too wrapped up
In each other’s arms to even swing their fists,

Just sweeping up the snow like the treads of a tractor.
But it was the quiet that struck me most, as if they didn’t want to disturb
A night as soft as this, maybe they were too drunk or too winded,
Maybe the way they clutched each other was too intimate for words

But the sheer roundness of their forms reminded me of ornaments,
How close it was to Christmas, and how the real cold of a Wisconsin winter
Would be sliding in without making a sound as we slept in our beds,
Something the bartender knew for himself as he unplugged the jukebox

And in his one small pleasure of nightly stagecraft, held a baseball bat
Up in the air where, at the fat end of the bat in thick black marker,
Was written Last Call, like something Moses might have brought back from the Mount
Had God chosen a sturdy branch of ash instead of two slabs of stone.

Author's Commentary: I’d indeed witnessed the fight that is the central image of the poem, but I’d witnessed it in college, and while I’ve obviously never forgotten it, what’s amusing is that it took me forty years for the incident to find expression.

Ken Holland

How strange to pass a street
Named Rigor Mortis Road, impossible
Not to wonder how it got that name,
Or best not to wonder at all.

I wasn’t home when my father died so
I can’t say how he’d placed his hands
Just before the flat-lining of his heart.
Or which way his thoughts were bent
In their final flash of motion. Whether
The future finally reached back to touch him
With one solitary word: Now.

I can say the burg my father grew up in near
The West Virginia border died well before he did,
Its very organs collapsed from within.
The skin of a neighbor’s barn soft enough to put
Your hand through, wood like mulch from the long
Feasting of termites. The silo like a finger that’s been
Broken and can no longer stretch straight and true.
It’s not the case that there’s always a death rattle.
Sometimes there’s just silence, and then more silence.

But when else can you listen to your own thoughts?
The uncanny way absence shapes one’s presence,
How it shifts and shifts, and our eternal desire
That it never cease.

Author's Commentary: Mortality—what more eternal topic is there?

Ken Holland

The river’s caught fire
It’s like immaculate conception
A child born from water and heat
From impurities inside the miracle

The river’s caught fire
I dip my hands to palm the water
Watch an infant flame ride the surface
Listen to the small wind of its voice

The river’s caught fire
Beauty in its aberration
The way a child prodigy
Burns through his own genius

When the river grows tired
It lays its hands to its eyes
Hugs the warm curve of the bank
And touches the heat of what once was a song.

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Ken Holland has had poetry and prose published in several dozen literary journals, including Rattle, Confrontation, and Southwest Review. One of his works was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He’s currently assembling his first chapbook as well as full length poetry manuscript. He works for a NYC publishing house.