The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Christopher Merrill

Matthew 7:7


The nine notes of the cardinal singing in the oak,
Repeated through the evening as the waxing moon
Rose through the blight and branches of the tree, recalled
For me that night on Maui, when you were young and played
A Bach arpeggio again and then again
To master a new fingering for an audition,
While I reread one verse: seek, and ye shall find; knock…

Whine of the chainsaw, on the slope of the ravine,
And now the crack and fall of an oak split by lightning,
And now the silence as it settles in the brush…
When the door opens to the afterlife, in the hush
Of what we pray will be eternal light, will we sing
Hosannas on the theme of what was right, not wrong,
In our time here below—or will we talk of sin?

What did the vizier order for his final meal?
Duck eggs, carp taken from the Nile, and watermelon
Spiked with the blood of the slave girl from the Levant
Who stole his heart, then told a priest about his rant
Against the patriarch. It was the caliph’s son
Who ordered up a lion for the execution.
And the girl? Her blood is also on the seventh seal.



Christopher Merrill

The Odds


Any fool can read a windsock, monitor sorties along the coast, or counter claims of infallibility made in another language. But it takes patience to devise a strategy to protect those who refuse to lay in supplies before the storm, skill to measure the yield of starlight or radioactive debris from a test conducted in a mine shaft, and genius to predict a couple’s future from the length of their courtship. Thus the arrangement of strings dangling from the mirror cracked on their wedding night inspired a bookmaker to give them odds of 25-1. He had stopped taking bets on how far the initials carved in the quaking aspen would stretch before its trunk snapped under snow or slag sliding down the mountain, but he was willing to lay odds on the fate of the targets in the sights of the warplanes circling the city. The cloud cover was so thick that the air controllers could not determine which runway had been spared in the last bombing run. And they feared the test would be repeated until they learned their lesson. There is no God but God, said the sheik taping black plastic over the billboard, covering the face of a blonde tennis star whose favorite cream was Clear. It was time to polish the martyrs’ names etched in the sidewalk, time to seek shelter. A gale blew from the south. Distribution centers were set up throughout the city, along the coast, and on the road into the mountains. Black letters creaked in the tree: RIP.




CHRISTOPHER MERRILL has published six collections of poetry, including Watch Fire, for which he received the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; many edited volumes and books of translations; and five works of nonfiction, among them, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars and Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain. His latest prose book, The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, chronicles travels in Malaysia, China and Mongolia, and the Middle East. His writings have been translated into nearly forty languages; his journalism appears widely; his honors include a Chevalier from the French government in the Order of Arts and Letters. As director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Merrill has conducted cultural diplomacy missions to more than fifty countries. He serves on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, and in April 2012 President Obama appointed him to the National Council on the Humanities.




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