Benjamin Voigt

Sacandaga, Placid, Desolation 
The first friend I made after we moved upstate
was literally uncomfortable
in his own skin: born with some disorder
where his layers rubbed together until
they blistered, Justin kept a sewing needle
in his pocket even then, at age ten,
to lance whatever part of him
bubbled up. His god-fearing mother worried
more about his left hand, forced him
to write the notes at the family flower shop
with his right. His dad exploded
for a living. They kept the dynamite
in the garage with their dump truck.
I still remember how my cheek burned
where it touched his after
I hugged him on his four-wheeler
while his bull chased us
through the pasture. Years later,
he shot me in the face
with a paintball gun while I was
wiping the fog from my mask. By then,
we’d already stopped talking because
he was always angry, and thought watersports
were the only art. On Lake Sacandaga,
Placid, Desolation, he flipped off the waves
made by the boat that pulled him
as another friend’s brother recorded,
their high-speed camera capturing his tricks
in the slowest motion—the torque of
the tow rope, his board soaring above the sun
as water marbled off his Mohawk,
each moment’s friction forgotten
as he hovered there, upside down in the air,

the roar of the motor the only song
until he dubbed one in later
like he was a rock star, like he was anything
but a lost boy, another hick Icarus
trying to stick the landing, trying, like I did,
to keep all his parts straight. Are you still?
All these years later, I don’t know
where or if you are, but I hope you fell,
I hope you wrecked against your wake,
and let go before the line you clung to
dragged you under, before the water closed
above you like a scab. There’s no escaping
the maze of yourself. Only the dead get to fly.

Silk Ghost

I’ve never flown before,
            but I know what it’s like
                        to be a lost boy. I grew up
caught in the rigging
            of my own imagination.
                        My heart was a knot.
I wanted to be myself,
            but didn’t know who that was.
                        You didn’t need to. Like a tree,
you changed with the seasons.
            I don’t remember what color
                        your hair was when we met,
but it’s always fall
            when I think of you now.
                        Is memory the bulldozer
you drew in the woods
            while I pretended to read,
                        trying to find my words?
Or is it the soup made of stones
            boiling on the stove?
                        Maybe it’s more like the circus
you left to join, a ghost
            that haunts the yellowed grass
                        on the outskirts of town.
Even from underneath
            its amber canvas, the big top seems
                        half-forgotten. The clowns
carry on like people
            a dream smeared, accordion music
                        fading in and out.
The fire-eaters warm up
            at the edge of the ring
                        while the lion-tamer rests his head
inside Jason’s mouth
            for the thousandth time, thinking of lunch
                        with his estranged son,
and how far the crowd sounds
            from inside this warm cave,
                        the coliseum bearing down
on his throat. No one owns swords
            anymore, but the people here
                        still swallow them, and I think
I know why: we don’t know
            the depths we have
                        until we do. The old dangers
retain their teeth. And how gently
            the blade must be coaxed out.
                        And how limber the limbs
of the flyers must be
            to defy gravity, the grave
                        history sends its history to.
That’s why the trapeze
            always comes last in the show—
                        the aerialists know
how close a rope is
            to a noose, and how the softest fabric
                        is also the strongest.
Hand over hand, you rise
            above the sawdust
                        into your new name, old friend,
scaling the sheets like
            a jailbird from the prison
                        of identity, weaving
and unweaving yourself
            in silk, protean, perpetual,
                        wry as Penelope,
as Peter Pan
            gliding above the stage
                        in drag. I’d always wanted
to be older, but the costumes
            never fit, so I hid
                        behind the curtains, waiting
for my cue to come out.
            You climbed them instead,
                        binding yourself in order
to escape. I’m imagining this
            because I haven’t seen you
                        in years, and my love helps me
because she’s learned to fly herself.
            You spin them like cocoons, she says,
                        remembering how safe it felt
to lie so high up
            with all the other moths
                        about to grow into their wings.
You’re only free when
            something holds you up.
                        You did. I’ll never forget.



From the Author: Robert Frost called North of Boston a “book of people.” I like this idea—that poems can be portraits and conversations, that a book can be like Facebook, a social media, but for the unsaid, the unsayable, the dead and gone. I wrote this pair in this spirit, but without, initially, thinking about them together. Eventually their kinship revealed itself: memory, metamorphosis, flight.  

Benjamin Voigt grew up in upstate New York on a small farm and the internet. His poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in ZYZZYVA, Poetry Northwest, Sycamore Review, Salamander, and Beloit Poetry Journal. His writing about poetry has appeared in Kenyon Review, Pleaides, The Rumpus and on the Poetry Foundation’s website. He works at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and lives in Minneapolis.