Three Poems by Rodney Koeneke

by: Rodney Koeneke

These three poems by Rodney Koeneke are densely buoyant travelogues where what moves is thoughtful consideration, a sense that action and reflection, past and present, clarity and contradiction are equally necessary for any present understanding. They play, yet their urgency demands that the reader read again because in them “sky and sea…lose/ Their boring distance.”


the new dialectics

Norns to shriek in operas,
falcons blind in hoods.

Sundays in the choir,
Fridays for the trysts.

Autumn’s sharpened moonblade,
autumn’s soggy box.

Breeze scuff lake to diamonds,
Frost freeze silken sleeves.

To feel that you have used all life,
to fill with life’s bazaar.

A coupe to keep for freeways,
a Rolls to hop the curbs.

Wheeling stars in night’s stabile
consider spring’s bureaucracy:

Clemency for poplars,
blows for stubborn elms.

Economy’s for donkeys—
the used will be renewed

Falcons find free perches,
jailers starve in cells.


the new aestheticism

++++++++++++++“progress is a kind of violence”
+++++++++++++++++++++++++—Walter Pater
Shadows set in aspic,
Kisses over sutures—this
Was the new aestheticism.

Metamorphosen whistled
Under street lamps, sad
In the loud Italian way.
Move along blue tiles
With your faceful
Of cosmetics, turn to them
Your secrecies of blue.
Sky and sea will lose
Their boring distance—
This was the new politics

Pressed into a monstrance
Raised to lord our sequins
Over crumbs. Jewel distending
Color for an hour, minutes
Crushed out fiercely in the dusk.
New proofs of evening’s ethics: plastic
Medals, boudoir drawers, brittle
Blossoms torn from girlish knots.

Time corrodes each pinkish cell—
Sun, an empty ball spins just 

For me. This was the new atheism
Run along the surface of a chest
Trussed by a lover you missed
At the station, scheduled train
Already hissed away.

Valises left in doorways, tokay
From plastic cups—this
Was the new austerity, sobriety
Depriving weeks of purpose,
Sunday lilies curled in browning sprays.

In no way can an image relax the
Body’s fall, but to wear just
Once the fringe I’m worthy of
Just please will you touch me
Outside any purpose, we’ll call it
The new eroticism, lost between
The cushions of a couch, boots
Unbuttoned, hair disgraced, hands
Bent back to fix the time before the

New chronology: night’s nickel
In its progress over velvet, paper
Burned in colored twists again.



Adherent of storms
and untimely
weather, how you
sleep where ashes
are blowing. I bring
my small light
kids need
for comfort, pull up
the ratty quilts until
what isn’t any closer
doesn’t matter—
night the executrix
calls, deletes
patricians telling
parents Rome
is burning. But is
that right, blue satellite?


Rodney Koeneke is the author of Etruria, Musee Mechanique, and Rouge State. Recent work is out or forthcoming in Fence, Granta, Gulf Coast, The Nation, and Poetry. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he teaches History at Portland State.

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