Four Poems by Ren Powell

excerpts from When the Body Leads


It begins and ends in a dream
as do all clichés

In a house I’ve lived in for years
Where my feet know and remember
Where to lift

to avoid
socks or skin
on the splintered spot
on the soft pine floor

Where my back knows and remembers
Where to bend

in the corner of the attic
to avoid
my forehead against the rafter

While my mind is wandering
Ahead of my body
Through the checklist of the day’s obligations

In this small house I know
so intimately –

a door
I’d overlooked.

A room –
A wing –

that opens


Thoughts can dissolve into the body
or skim above it

like smooth stones

like one hand clapping

the mind in search of itself

Sinking among the cells
of flesh and blood
and neurons and
the space between
the spaces

like the memory
of a flame


on the retina

like breath
like a flying fish of consciousness
captured in the ocean of a body


The wisdom of the body

Shifting rhythms
like a horse’s shifting

Whatever works
Whatever is efficient
Whatever is matter-of-fact in its joy

There is nothing discrete of the body
Where everything moves together

Resists together


A house with a locked door
is a broken home

an amputation
a phantom ache

A house with a locked door

an imaginary thought
a distant relative too removed to survive
the delicate mutations of evolution

A fragment of DNA


Sometimes I run
with my eyes closed

A fish flying over
the surface

To escape from/return to
an overwhelming

An indisputable sense
like water
like flames
fading from the retina


The New Moon Is Always

The new moon is always
unseen – if felt
as an ache
longing and darkness
the weight of an absence

It takes the time
it takes
to emerge from the shadow
a sliver
a bloating and vulgar promise.



We lit fires in the dunes

in their sheltered, hidden
spaces where the wind rode
over us
and gulls hovered over us, occasionally
stealing bread

It was summer
when the world refused
to go dark

and the dunes held us
throwing weight around
our ankles
passive/aggressive & falling
apart under our touch

Oh, the effort it took
to climb out

like pulling a cork
from a bottle

fishing out
the curled missive, just

out of finger’s reach.


Surface Tension

Animals sense it coming
feel the edge before the quake
cows in the pasture
chickens in the coop

Four hours of sleep
and the morning is brittle
I can feel dead
branches and twigs breaking
beneath my shoes

I might be breathing: I see
a brown duck breaks the water
a thrush hops in the underbrush
a mourning dove lands in a birch

and the crows are somewhere, everywhere
among the pines, invisible

Their squabbling
a building hysteria
the soundtrack for the great
shift that is coming.

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