Three Poems by J. D. McClatchy

The Golden Floor

The golden floor, incised with old designs
Of dryad and thunderbolt,
Where a newly created god reclines
Suddenly lifts
And tilts to one side with an unnerving jolt.

The elder Everlastings have thronged to its rim
And are staring down at men
Below, staring through the scrim
Of centuries
Or the lifetimes a single second may comprehend,

Down at the miniscule figures in leather and steel,
Armies of insects thrown
Together so that warriors conceal
The bodies beneath.
In the bonded phalanx each man died alone.

The new young god had been a river once
Crossed by rival kings.
The plash of slopping hooves still blunts
His readiness
To listen for the screams of mortal things.

The scene is smeared with cloud but he can see
Among the rubbled dead
A man howling on his knees,
Coughing up
Gouts of blood, his trembling arms outspread

As if to beg the heavens to turn and fight
For his beleaguered city.
Soon his soul will sink into a scalding light
And disappear.
But the young new god has neither interest nor pity.


Continents of cloud sweep across
The free-falling sun, their edges uplit
Like coastlines seen at night by satellite,
Slowly turning a spoiled apricot,
shade of a date palm’s tangled ovaries.

An old iguana and I are standing atop—
Its hooded amber eye on the distance we keep—
The seawall dry heaves of bilge are slapping
Against. I look down at myself wavering
In the iridescent slick, white flames

Flickering around a head of indistinct
Lusters, lips engorged but unable to open,
Seeming to struggle with what you would think
Must be unspeakable, some bit of heartbait
Uncertain of its victim, cheeks smeared

With a livid, pulsing lie. I close my eyes
And think. What was it I had been looking for?
A choice, or the assurance that there is one still?
But who stares back now slowly drifts away
On a sigh of water. Only my regret remains.

It’s washed up here, with a world of blurry
Fortunes. How self-contained the past
Seemed, the tiny tin globe you unscrewed to find
Two mazes meant for marbles to make their way
Through—one going hither, one going yon.

All the defeated young men, scummed over
With the flashes of success, broken reeds and wrappers,
Float one last scheme, not really thinking
It will work but ready to sign everything over.
They watch themselves trembling in a drop of ink.

Toppled Potted Palm

As if its hair were cascading
Over a tearful plea, it sobs on the stone
Floor about what we can only guess.
Its wimpled canopy is wayward and puffy,
The branches, now backturned, disclosing
How windscald has for weeks blistered their lips.
The trunk has come dislodged from its tub,
The white plastic hollow shadowed by the gap
Between the real and the unreal.
If its roots knew better they would grow up
Toward a freedom that will get nowhere,
But they too seem only to have surrendered
To the givens of wind and rain and all
The ordinary ways we are brought to the ground.