Driving on a Country Road at Midnight, I Summon Du Fu
“…the river of stars casts its trembling shadow.”
Clouds blot the ceiling of everything,
a gray algal bloom
strangling your river of stars.
a red pulse of heat lightning. Dendrites
firing within the cortex
of a behemoth cloud-brain. I struggle
to explain modern neuroscience to you,
settling at length on a metaphor
of a million tiny candles
lighting & relighting one another.
Sitting beside me, the fringe
of your robe is caught in the seal
of the passenger door, & your moldy boots
crunch on a leaf-litter
of grocery store receipts. Although
it is a balmy summer night in Florida,
you exhale cold vapor made green
by the glow of the dashboard,
& shiver, still prisoner to the damp paw
of the Hunan winter that beat
the life from your flesh.
You speak to me, but I can only
understand you when you recite.
When the clouds part, I point
out the stars, the same stars
that once witnessed an old bureaucrat
re-thatching his wind-scoured roof.
You shake your head. Beauty & awe
are luxuries you can’t afford in death.
I try to argue, but you begin reciting:
“Man is the most foolish animal,
for man alone stands upright—stands
only to be ground to chaff
between the twin millstones
of Earth & Sky.”
Sometimes I can hear you
dreaming—loud as falling starlight,
or a canary singing deep
in the black marrow of a mountain;
clear as moth’s wings in a thunderstorm,
or an ant’s stomach digesting honey
ten feet below ground.
Jonathan Louis Duckworth received his MFA from Florida International University. His fiction, poetry, and non-fiction appears in New Ohio Review, Fourteen Hills, PANK Magazine, Thrice Fiction, Jabberwock Review, Superstition Review, and elsewhere.