Poetry » Philip Belcher »


          At dusk the soul rocks in its homesickness . . .
          –Derek Walcott, from “In Italy”

The six o’clock rattles the track
behind the junior college farm,
blasts grackles from the oak.

Beneath the squawking parabola
carved into dusk’s yellow band,
a freshman grips his knees, leans

into the flank of his ward,
a Guernsey stooping for grass.
He warms his face against

her steaming hide and imagines
peaches hanging from his father’s
trees, the smudge pots belching

dark into dark, his mother counting
crates in the shed—rocking the arm
of the adding machine—

the harvest tumbling through
the washer’s hiss. He considers
the sweet smell of juice seeping

through a bruise, how distance
is gauged by more than space,
the mandatory cull of wounded fruit.

The Lesson

On a bench cut into the stump of a willow
oak, I sat in the dark, impatient for the promised

lesson. The transformer hummed a gray alto
into the pines, moths hurled themselves into

the carport light, and Gail opened the double-
glass door to her father’s house. Wrapped

in Jay Wilson’s football jacket, she came
to me across the grass, an olive moon of hip

waxing through her jeans’ ripped seam.
Her smile explained all I would ever need

to know about pity and power, and I raised
my lips as if to sip the moon. For ten dry

seconds, our mouths contended, the pressure
heavier than friendship, hers lighter than lust,

a contest too brief, too peaceful, her hand channeling
the agony of all young manhood into my thigh.


Except for the obvious, it looks nothing
like a unicorn, and even the horn curves
gently back, its tip a gradual rose.
The cat ears distract, and yellow eyes
bulging from a lion’s face, the purple-
striped band unfurled from throat to groin.
The tail, beginning pale as the goatee,
darkens to brown near the end. Torso
more deer than horse, hooves pawing
the website’s white space. The unicorn,
by comparison, is dour. A twisted horn
has been Photoshopped fluorescent
yellow onto the brow of a horse standing
over a caption in which even the comma
scoffs: North Korea Has Found
a Secret Unicorn Lair, Apparently.

Yes, the Korean Central News
Agency also told a starving people
that the hills cried and birds cooed
a lament when Kim Jong-il died.
And, yes, the PRK is an easy target
for scorn. But you must admire
the audacity. And imagine our
delight if they were not, this once,
disingenuous, if they did find Ulmil
Pavilion atop Mt. Kumsu and, on
the hillside, the temple where juvenile
Qilin romped, if we learned that the
unicorn was, or is, the Qilin’s more
homely cousin, if the skeptics
renounced their logic and we
demanded more colorful lies.