Two poems by Jacqueline West

To a Friend in Alaska

From a kitchen table, McKinley is impossible.
Hard to believe in the white mass of polar bears,
in whales’ ancient songs along the ice floe.

The Northern Lights stop here now and then
like Vegas entertainers on layover, dangling
their reluctant ribbons over the sodium lamps,
and I think of you on the still-warm hood of a car;
I think of you reaching out a hand that comes back
pink and green, and covered with stars.

Friday, 3 p.m., British Museum

They are gone now.
We’ve stripped their graves.
The coffins gape like cracked nutshells.

Our breath fogs the glass; ancient works disappear
under a cloud of our own crowding.
We lap their undone burial.

Middle-aged matrons in sunglasses and twill
lean sweaty hands on rock rims of sarcophagi,
fanning creased necks with free brochures
and saying it’s hot in eight languages.

Coins jumbled in cases, sweating cups of cold tea,
the Rosetta glancing blandly from its cage.
The way our shoulders make a tomb.

The upturned catacombs gleam with fluorescence,
tilted troves lined up, bones polished.
The neatly restored feet that stand once again.

There is not enough air.  We suck it like ice,
spit it out carved in hard alphabets.
Our words chip at the broken marble.
The blur of our tongues melts the stone.

About the author

Jacqueline West lives amid the bluffs of eastern Minnesota. Her favorite trips involve opportunities to explore crumbly old cemeteries and drink lots of unusual…

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