Excerpts from ‘The Muddy Banks’ by Michael S. Begnal

Uptown

 
1.
 
Yellow and crimson leaves, the sidewalks and streets,
leaves of vines clinging to tree trunks
and brick buildings, concrete staircases overgrown
with weeds and roots—
 
vines cling on tree trunks, brick buildings are
concrete things, dwellings of a dead mind,
dwelling-places of a vanished mind
that stained such things as this—
 
dwellings of a vanished mind, saw someone,
saw things, broken windows, crimson leaves,
mansards, toilets whose porcelain is stained
and rough, whose water ran—
 
broken windows saw the concrete staircase below,
its iron handrail rust like leaves,
its steps buckled and cracked with roots and weeds,
hacking coughs—
 
window broken to the cold, saw someone hacking
over the porcelain stained rough like leaves,
a mind vanishes, someone vanishes
in a cold apartment where the toilet runs—
 
a dwelling-place is empty but of concrete things,
broken panes, a toilet’s porcelain dry and rough,
a mind has vanished down a concrete staircase,
across the highway, to the cold river
 

Uptown

 
3.
 
Snow on one of the two
blue steel arches
of the Birmingham Bridge
blue-green, white, and splattered
with rust, the snow sour curdled milk
 
sheets of broken ice
floating in the Monongahela,
pieces accrued together
in frozen geometries
of white-grey on grey-green
 
empty trees de-veiled,
the South Side hills in snow, and
from beyond that distance,
from beyond the hills,
from beyond other ridges,
 
announcement, an announcement:
 
  I bring news,
  a stag lows,
  winter snows,
  summer has died
 
  high wind cold,
  sun is low,
  short its track,
  river a riptide
 
  the ferns all red,
  a shape concealed,
  a goose rises,
  ancient its voice
 
  cold takes hold
  of birds’ wings:
  a time of ice
  is my news
 
These excerpts from The Muddy Banks (Ghost City Press, 2016) are © Michael S. Begnal,

Note: “Uptown” section 3, lines 17-32 (beginning with the line “I bring news” and continuing through “is my news”), is my translation of an anonymous 9th-century Irish poem beginning “Scél lemm duib. . .” (which also appears on a t-shirt made by An Spailpín Fánach).


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Mike S. Begnal Michael S. Begnal has published the collections Future Blues (Salmon Poetry, 2012) and Ancestor Worship (Salmon Poetry, 2007), as well as the chapbook Mercury, the Dime (Six Gallery Press, 2005). Formerly editor of The Burning Bush literary magazine and formerly longtime Galway resident, Begnal’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

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