Dan Rosenberg

A Middle Kingdom
after Tomaž Šalamun

Will you climb to the roof? Can you stomach the sky?
I won’t climb to the roof. I’ll hold tight to my skin.
Will you pillage the city? Will you seed it with salt?
I won’t pillage the city. I’ll pull paint from its thighs.

What about the city frightens you?
Light. It wants to swallow all the light.
Do its windows close against the heavy clouds?
When the clouds grow heavy, all the lovers touch.

How did you come to be in the city?
I fell from a glade. I wanted to be an architect.
I wanted to stand on the man-made ground and see
if it would hold my feet or render me a starling.

Sestina with Tomaž Šalamun

I’d kiss the spiders, too,
if there weren’t so many.
I’d listen for blessings
in each truck’s quick brake
while I stand here: a man
on the sidewalk, feet apart

like a fighter tearing apart
his shadow. But no. I want to
keep my shadow whole. A man
who runs through lava has many
worries, but a windbreak
ain’t one. These blessings

don’t smell like blessings,
trailing you like a comet. Apart
from dying, how could you break
my gaze from the sky? I count too
many vultures, cry into too many
sunspots, let them all go. Man

of knives, man of prayer, man
sunk in a bathtub of blessings:
I’m none of them. How many
legs can I pull apart
before I’m a spider, too?
How many eyeglasses break

from light, light, light? Break
me open; there’s just a man
too small to crow, too
big to fall. Empty with blessings.
We stand too far apart
on the crosswalk, many

years apart. You died many
times. The pavement always breaks.
Each green crack keeps us a part
of each other. No man
has littered more blessings
than you. Now, tell me, me too.

You had the body of too many
spiders. Like a blessing, you broke.
Like a man, I came apart.

Since Tomaž died in 2014, I’ve written many elegies for him. This couplet tries to honor him—the man and the poet—while walking around grief, tracing its borders. Both poems borrow from him, either with images or with movements of mind. In this way we keep close what we’ve lost.

Dan Rosenberg’s books include Bassinet, cadabra, and The Crushing Organ, which won the American Poetry Journal Book Prize. He has also published the chapbooks A Thread of Hands and Thigh’s Hollow, which won the Omnidawn Poetry Chapbook Contest, and he co-translated Slovenian poet Miklavž Komelj’s Hippodrome. Find him online at danrosenberg.us.

Photos by Heather Ainsworth