Paul Nelson


Mallards hunker
snug among the hummocks
of goose and sawgrass
above the tidal sag

Water in our cellar seems natural
pressured by earth and river
as if Spring were a threat
and we natural

Today’s storm on the winter solstice
heavy rain and snow and vast melt
under a bright, skeptical sun
has no real warmth …or malice

We do not know what to do
We know we are animals
should not pray for agency
for power we have heard of all our lives
and weathered well

but not yet can we grieve
for those we love and lose to shriveling
and mindlessness, the universe
letting our selves lie as if engaged
allowing myths of life
Auden and Eliot whining nicely
as if malice were more than human
Frost’s Pacific once warned rage
as if it did

our minds resigned to the drift of stars
as and when we see them
like dear friends or mallards in the marsh
…as if we really do feel them
as poetry might have it
taking up time
to hold off the simplest common event
more certain than birth


The Far Bank

For the first time this Spring the swollen current has slowed,
tired of rage, ice cakes a memory, pollen a patina drifting
by the far bank’s edge of mud, shining near dusk like despair,
the brisk season saddening into gravid summer, a teen ager,
no relief from heat, the unbroken water bent on delivery.

Children, schools of them, are in a dragged net at school
groomed to equality by gunfire, one version of freedom
righteousness abides in this climate evolving toward Fall,
leaves drying, brittle and red-faced as believers, bright-eyed
and eager for a winter infant born of an avuncular god
and a virgin wife raped into adultery …to beget a man-child,
born to die young, a man who can walk on water, without
laughing like water.


Paul Nelson has published ten books of poetry including an AWP winner and a University of Alabama Press Selection. An NEA Fellow, his first book of fiction, Refrigerator Church (Tailwinds Press),came out in 2018. Two stories from this book were nominated for the Pushcart Award. A chapbook of poetry, Black Dog (Main Street Rag Press) was published in Spring, 2022, and a new ms. of fiction, Canary in the Kitchen, is ready, as is a new ms. of poetry, Just Breathing. For nearly a decade, he directed Creative Writing for Ohio University.