By Mark J. Mitchell


                            For John

Lost as a bird in a snowbank
propped on drifts of sheets, pillows,
vanishing but present—
Her beautiful eyes.
There are no words.

Her cool love now distilled
to almost hollow bones,
to her thin, brave laugh.
There are no

names for the song of this now
where you hold absence and her because
There are

her loves—her songs—her laugh—her eyes


You must return this book to the empty room.
A white door opens. You have no book.
You return to the empty room.
A young man you once knew stands
beside an extruded pool. He returns
the door to its jamb. His pointed face
stays behind. You return, book in hand. The room
is not empty. The book leaves. You return
to another door, hoping this room will be empty. The young man
smiles with pointed teeth. You return to the pool’s
edge and drop a book that blossoms into a ship.
You return to the other side of the white door.
The young man bites the book with his pointed smile.
You slide under water in a full pool. Your legs return.
You kick. You drown. You return. You’re awake.


Note: In Roman religion, if a single error was made in the performance of a ritual the entire ceremony had to be performed again from the beginning.

The victim resists its procession.
It snorts and brays,
digs hooves into dust.
The sight of wood, stacked
neat on a marble altar,
makes it rear onto its hind legs.

Birds resist the sky
refusing to fly west or east.

The bronze knife is made
of silver. It blinds
an old priest with resistant light.

Consecrated paint doesn’t leave
the bucket until an acolyte trips
while resisting rocks. Pigment spins—
Once. Twice. Three times—then douses
a sacred virgin on her walk of shame.

The animal—resisting—kicks
at the altar, scattering camphor-doused wood.
It charges at the celebrants
dancing its way to freedom while
all the hymns are forgotten.

Resist the desire
to start this all again.


She keeps her milk teeth in a mason jar—
they float more slowly in winter and bob
to the surface when the weather grows warm.
It rests on her workbench with stray door knobs
and loose nails. They rattle when viking cars
blow past. She doesn’t notice them. She keeps
them sealed like a will or incomplete form
she means to mail. Should she ever get robbed
she’ll still have one thing that’s hers—that’s safe
as milk, as dusk, as youth. They’re not holy,
just sacred in spite of being misplaced
on her bench. They guard her. Only she sees
how they mark her castle, protect her keep—
her stone walls, firm. They will not be erased.


Twilight again, but different twilight. It is morning, just before dawn. Venus is in the ascendant, peeking like a wink to the right of the building it is my charge to watch.
A taxicab pulls up. Nothing emerges. It seems as if there are two lovers who are reluctant to say good-bye to each other. Or perhaps they are just too tired or too drunk to move.
The yellow door finally opens. A tall woman emerges, wearing a golden tuxedo and a glittered top hat. I recognize her, although it takes me a moment. She is the same woman who wore all the bracelets and left that young man in despair.
She is laughing. A man emerges from the taxi. It is the chess player with the monocle.
He takes the woman’s hand. He leads her to the entrance of the building.
A light comes on in the upper right corner of the building. The red brick is slightly yellowed by it, but still infused with the purple of a sky just before sunrise.
A curtain twitches, but I can see no one. I’m sure I know who is there.
The man with the monocle brushes his unruly hair back with his left hand. He laughs a laugh that could break glass.
He kneels before the tall woman.
She is her own statue. She knows that she is a monument of womanhood in that early morning. She is sure of her command over every male of the species.
The man reaches out to her and she offers her hand.
He bows his head and kisses the hand.
From the east, the sun peeks out.
Her golden tuxedo comes to life, reflecting the narrow beam of light that has just emerged.
She tips her head forward and the top hat drops with a graceful somersault into her hand.
She laughs a laugh that would break the heart of Mozart.
She takes her hand back from the kneeling man.
She enters the building.
Above, the light goes out.
The man with the monocle takes a chair off one of the outdoor tables of the café.
He reaches beneath it.
He starts arranging pieces for a game of chess.
Day will break soon.

mark j mitchell

About the Author:

Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as the anthologies Good Poems, American Places, Hunger Enough, Retail Woes and Line Drives. It has also been nominated for both Pushcart Prizes and The Best of the Net. He is the author of two full-length collections, Lent 1999 (Leaf Garden Press) and Soren Kierkegaard Witnesses an Execution (Local Gems) as well as two chapbooks, Three Visitors (Negative Capability Press) and Artifacts and Relics, (Folded Word). His novel, Knight Prisoner, is available from Vagabondage Press and a new novel is forthcoming: The Magic War (Loose Leaves Publishing). He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and activist Joan Juster where he makes a living showing people pretty things in his city.