Philip Sueper

Building a Skyline

Thrown Stones


The Return of Lazarus

  Building a Skyline

   It looms over me, this figment
   of city old as chrome bumpers, like the decrepit
   grain elevators and junkyards sketching real town

   walls and red clay, roads a spot-on match
   with miles of rusted mufflers and dead
   metal weaving through countryside ghost towns

   more north than I've ever been. I bundle leavings
   for extra cash, crush countless dull stories and the cars
   that own them, compact histories

   into four-by-four slabs, piling them
   into makeshift monoliths; still-life skylines
   of engines that have not revved in years.

   I have twenty-one layers of dirt
   in my lungs and rust collects in streaks
   of sweat like car parts lining the scrapyard—

   hundreds of tire treads tearing clean paths.
   I'd look past the last gas can into a sky I can't chew,
   but I've taken in clay so long

   this scrapped shack owns more of me than the air
   of every other place I've never been.
   The nearest town is seventeen miles of swept curve

   away. After ten minutes on the fly in fifth,
   that world's every gate open, a whole city rippling.
   Much too fluid for any of my rust-hunks combusting

   too fast even for cars. My pulse at that pace,
   I could beat like five o'clock on the way out the door.
   No distance could pull me back to mufflers.

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   Thrown Stones

   The bet has always been simple: skip a rock
   all the way across that body for nothing
   but bragging rights. This simple premise has lured
   thousands of stones into the deep

   pockets of river basin, and countless
   claims have been flung off tongues like faulty throws,
   but only one man has ever cinched its middle,
   tightened river like a belt with quick arching notches.

   He became immortal as leaves
   made their way to compost and fire, final proof
   that century-old summer had sloughed off its amber
   for the dim shades of shale and slate,

   of polished rock winging its way through blue. Like everyone else
   he kept his life and name, but he's never been more than this
   stone throw, this, become something like myth, dangling
   along loose lips in a land of full waters,
   words traveling at the speed of undertow.

   His story is told all the time, the he becomes she occasionally,
   the weather changes, but it's always the same.
   He is the hurler and the rock, both sides
   of the river he stitched with thirty-three skips.

   Belief in this throw has carried much more than stone
   to whatever depths have held it. That deep has opened
   for buttons, washers, handfuls of changed loosed like rain on its face.

   They've all known the odds of winging one
   across, no matter how slight the chance,
   and they've all begged of gravity just one more lunge,
   offering the rest of their lives against a rock and the other side of the river.

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   I should've embraced the snake. I should have
   embraced the snake and the snake's branch,
   the snake and the snake's tongue. I could've had
   it, god-knowledge, the only it that will ever matter really,
   on the tip of my tongue: language, star charts.
   I could've wound around snake curls and rested,
   brain bursting with everything but questions.

   Questions. When you say it like that
   it almost presumes something answerable, tangible,
   some picture half-length here, double there,
   a sum arrived at. That's what we're really talking about
   —yes, no, squash, date, sun, moth, rock. Data.
   I have questions. What rage could you muster,
   bones split, skin ripped, body broken, before
   he let you die? How could you be so full
   of blood that your body spread evenly over
   enough dirt to bury three men?
   Why does the smell of death send apes reeling
   and me searching?

   The right questions have no answers. They don't
   show me the position you died in, arms tucked
   crosswise under legs, they don't give me the bark scrap
   that spoke of blood eight to nine hours old
   when I found you, they don't use the word murder,
   and they don't leave me so empty I can sleep at night.

   The right questions beat me over and over with the simple truth
   that I will never stop watching you die,
   and I cannot ever stop wanting to.

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   The Return of Lazarus

   With desperate words and a wrist-flick
   from the hand of some lonely stranger, I've returned,
   someone who's seen earth sink and helped
   to sink it, mask of man wrapped
   two loosely in white, a shadow strapped
   at the foot of a body that cannot rest.

   Flesh given way to fabric, blood
   just remembrance, here, now, I walk
   back to rock, my rock. The flat
   slab and all the dirt in it, the bowled
   slope of stone that could've curved me
   into earth given the pressure and the time.

   Yes, I was flesh and I was blood.
   Before the smell of me was the smell of earth,
   before the murmurs of crickets and the silences of worms
   were the murmurs and the silences of me,
   and before the echoes of every death
   leaned against me like willows.

   But for you, I should've been coagulate,
   bandage, cotton and clot entirely. I should've been left
   to hollow like bone, to be a carbon shard
   as forgettable as everyone who only dies once,
   and I would've, too, like sound flattening
   I would've stopped, dissolved, and vanished.

   Imagine hush. Desertion. The utterance only
   of disparate whispers through bundled oak
   split-stacked near nightsnow.
   This certain still, this attention granted
   dew seeping each harvest clean of soil,
   never-ending, its barely borne drop,

   it's stumbling hurl towards anything like grace,
   the sound of oceans drying,
   all of it, slipped in this solitary
   second stuck between silence, this pinned point
   of even air's centerpiece.
   This had been my resonance.

   So do not make of me what you will,
   I am not your epic. I didn't empty
   out in great crimson pools, fires didn't leap
   from my eyes when you closed them,
   bandaging them twice just in case,
   and I didn't die for you.

   I ended, as you will end, and you can have that,
   but this beginning is mine.

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Philip Sueper is a procreator by choice, and a writer by profession. He's been excelling at both since college, and he now has four children and a fun gig as a simulation designer for interactive training courseware. Words have always been and will continue to be Phil's method of choice for expressing his world to others. He's been published here and there, won a contest or two, and has a receding hairline. He's vain, honest, and loyal, even more so when he's drunk. He'd only lay down his life for his wife or his children, but he'd lay down a limb or two for his best friends.

content Copyright 2007, Philip Sueper—All Rights Reserved