Two Poems by Cynthia Atkins

BOMB 64 Summer 1998
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Apocalypse in August

This is the valley where nothing stirs,
    so still, I thought the leaves
had stopped breathing—fatigue of greenest greens.
    The symphony winding down
to the lone violin. I had been given a warning
    to turn right instead of left, but the signs crossed,
ergo a misstep, a wrong turn into the hot house
    of thermal warming. The sun resembles a lightbulb dimming.
Across a string of cities, the busses puff and exhume.
    (Mosquitoes. Gnats. Ice melting in the glass.)
Sluggish and thirsty beyond thirst itself,
    I set out to search for the sailor
roaming over the wide seas. I had wanted my turn
    at the helm of all that is majestic
and imposing; sequence of gulls, a trajectory
    of waves and wind lapping at the boat
like the clarity of autumn.
    Instead, I bumped up against
the blurred fleet of thought into the loss
    of concentration, as in bone-dry,
the mind leaving its portal—as in,
    this is not the hammer,
but the hammer’s echo. Pressing on,
I came upon trails and leads
    to what was left behind
like camper’s debris: plastic flatware and snags
    of netting. I kept unearthing
an obituary of cities, the endless roster of names.
    Fading streetlamp, slink of moon,
this must have been where God lost his shoes.
    An orchestra of discordant windows
rattled thick with urban squalor. (Somewhere in the heat
    of the moment, the gun went off … )
So was this the pain mistaken for pleasure?
    Blistering hot, I thought the sun
was falling. The fun is over, I was told,
    ”Sign on the dotted line … “
In the pitched humidity, the fans worked over-time
    throbbing the morticians’ back rooms.
Injunctions in the aftermath; crossbeams, anthems,
    32,000,000,000 fast food signs—
(everything was burned). I set out to search
    for the prelude morning glory,
for a bee clinging to a blossom, for the last seat held
    at the symphony in heaven.
But in the end, I’ve turned smack into the balmy ballroom
    where the last groping couple
has yet to snuff the candles and go home.

Appelation in April

Today we have risen as if every thought
were an entrance, an opening bud of sun
spreading its frond tips like fringe shifting
on a dixie girl’s skirt.
    We have come from the despair
of our back of the drawer dwelling place
into this heady light which shuns and shakes a finger
at the anemic. The soil is insistent
    and gives way to seeds
of possibility flying triumphant and unfettered
as confetti. All of the sudden, the tulips
    are sprouting up at every turn.
So at a moment’s notice,
we can leave behind our bundle
of contradictions, our sibilant failures.
    For today, we can take comfort in knowing
the throng of children haven’t yet seen
the fallen vision; how bad checks will be written,
the roof leak, and the phone of loss ring
    in the middle of the night.
For this day at least, God is shuffling his feet
over each green blade. The young are April
foolish, they believe the world is out there
    and waiting to happen. The freckled girls
push dandelion stems behind their ears,
and fidgety boys touch their beanstalks.
    By turns, all of our perils are kept at bay.
By turns, only little acts of kindness.
Someone has put our red boots away,
oiled the rusted bicycle chain,
and left a bowl of fruit
with a note that bears our name.

Cynthia Atkins’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Letters & Commentary,Denver Quarterly, Seneca Review, Southern Humanities Review, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry. She currently lives in Virginia where she teaches at Hollins College.

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Originally published in

BOMB 64, Summer 1998

Featuring interviews with Tracey Moffatt, Aharon Appelfeld, Eric Kraft, Maurice Berger, Patricia Williams, Richard Powers, Stellan Skarsgard, Jesus “Chucho” Valdes, and Lou Reed. 

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