The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Michael Spence

The Fragment's Edge


Was I supposed to know the man
Whom Porlock business bade me see
Had dreamt that day of Kubla Khan
And my arrival stayed his plan
     To make it poetry?
The muffled mutters behind his door
Sounded too outlandish to ignore:
A kingdom fabulously walled and towered—
Despite such culture—strove to hold tight

 Inside it a river that sheer wildness powered
Down to an ocean no sun would ever light.

Looking like he had not slept
For a week, he demanded I explain
My purpose here; while his gaze swept
His cluttered quarters, the man kept
     Frowning as though in pain.
But when I told him I had come
At his request, he seemed struck dumb:

He bid me in a shaking voice to detail
The business we had arranged some days before.
It seemed an hour, yet still I failed—

As if he were deafened by a river’s roar.

I had heard the talk of laudanum,
How he partook to breach the wall
That sealed the depths he wished to plumb:
As though he had turned to opium
     Dissolved in alcohol.
The day after I had left, the dream
Began to enclose my mind in its steam—
Of demon lovers, prophecies of war.
So I came back, seeking to return it
To the dreamer, that it would haunt me no more.
I failed. If he writes his poem, I pray you: burn it.



Michael Spence

Instructions to My Friends and Relatives


Stop it! Stop giving me so many reasons
            To cramp my hand with writing eulogies.
            Although you know the poet part of me’s
Perversely glad to have a sad occasion
To render into verse, the rest wants none
            Of you—not one!—to call on me to be
            Ventriloquist’s dummy to your farewell, to emcee
Your final dance before the curtains open,
            Revealing the audience to which you’ll bow
            Beyond this one we face together now.



Michael Spence

The Ice-Cream Man


Summer. All it touches the sun
Coats with hot oil. Children
Sprawl under maples, drowsing.
The hum of aimless flies
Begins to fill their ears
Like gauze.

Then, down a road traveled
Only by heat waves, comes
A new sound. The children jump
Up, scatter into their houses.
They plead for money from those
Old enough

To save such a thing. The chimes
Grow louder. Screen doors
Whack open: smothering coins
In their fists, the children
Plunge into the caldron
Of noon.

Like robbers who ambush
An armored car, they ring
The singing truck. He steps
Into sunlight, his clothes
Blinding as snow. Smiling,
He opens

His freezer. Mist boils out:
Breath from a beast guarding
Icicles of fudge, orange,
Vanilla. When the children take
That first bite, some of them
Gasp. He laughs

As they lick at drips running
Down fingers. Then, waving,
The ice-cream man drives away—
Taking others the cold wealth
He keeps in his strongbox
Of winter.




MICHAEL SPENCE drove public-transit buses in the Seattle area for thirty years, a job he retired from on Valentine's Day, 2014. Poems of his have appeared recently in The Chariton Review, The Hopkins Review, The Hudson Review, Measure, The New Criterion, Poetry Daily, The Sewanee Review, and Tar River Poetry. A long poem based on his time in the navy is forthcoming in The Hudson Review. In 2014, he was awarded a Literary Fellowship from Artist Trust of Washington State. His fifth book, Umbilical (St. Augustine's Press, 2016), won the 2015 New Criterion Poetry Prize.



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