Mark Wagenaar Click to


Mark Wagenaar is the 2016 winner of Red Hen Press’ Benjamin Saltman Prize, for his forthcoming Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining. His  The Body Distances (A Hundred Blackbirds Rising), and Voodoo Inverso, won UMass Press’ Juniper Prize & U of Wisconsin Press’ Pollak Prize, respectively. He has also won the James Wright Prize and the Pablo Neruda Prize. His poems have appeared or will in The New Yorker, Tin House, Missouri Review, Field and Southern Review. He is currently serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Valparaiso University.

—divination by auras

It’s Johnny Cash on the little boombox
I carry as we climb the grain silo ladders to get a bird’s eye view
of the town, of our dozen streets,
then the father hen will call his chickens home,

a little eschatology in the early evening—
& you ask, why divinations a moment before

you press your hand to your head:
the town blurring on its edges, I know from past episodes,

like static breaking in, like the ghost chatter of phantom birds
on radar, the green flecks no one could explain
moving against the wind.

And the lights, every light begins to drift closer.
Aura, you say, quietly. A migraine coming.

Like reading the red sky at morning, the sailor’s warning,
or looking for tomorrow
in chicken entrails, tea leaves, casting locks of hair
                                                       when the I Ching goes missing,
as if your body had a handle on the what’s-to-come,
o Cassandra, o Isaiah,

your body somehow tuned to the turning of the days,
the way moths steer by the stars, or animals scatter
                                                     to higher ground
before the tsunami hits.
I never answered your question—it was reading the Inferno,
meeting the doomed one by one, being moved

by the damned, yes, because who amongst us hasn’t dreamed
a passion that would condemn us to a whirlwind
                                               of bodies,
but it was the fortune tellers that shook me—
forced to carry their heads in their hands with their gaze fixed
behind them always.
                       And for what.
Trying to look through the signs into
tomorrow. Who hasn’t looked to the stars

to see if someone’s coming back, who hasn’t seen a body
hovering between this world & next
                                       in the monarch butterflies
rising from milkweed?
You would have laughed,
but all I wanted was to gather them once,
all those condemned sightseers,
because no father hen was coming to take them home.

Are there other windows into the future
your body can look into? Could you look long enough

to see twelve hundred snow geese falling from the sky over Idaho next week?

We begin to climb down, rung by rung, your eyes
closed, slow as Dante down the devil’s back.

Cars shake down Main’s cobblestones. A siren blares
in the distance. You might out-do the MRI,
find the invisible tear in a tendon, tease out

the names from the next round of pink slips.
Get us through the day. Steer us, get us

home, so there would be no pile of flowers in the middle
of the street. No boombox on the sidewalk, playing a loop

of the D.A. reciting charges
against the cops, over & over.

We might know the hands on the litter that will bear us.
We might kiss those hands before we go.